Arena—Dove sarei arrivato se fossi stato intelligente! (Arena—where would I have got if I had been intelligent!, 1970–72) includes one hundred panels of distressed and altered photographs that document the actions, drawings, and sculptures of German artist Joseph Beuys, which range in date from the 1940s to 1972. Like much of Beuys’s work, Arena was developed and modified over several years. A modest iteration was first shown in Edinburgh in 1970; three monochromatic panels and the heavy aluminum frames were added to the reworked installation for a second exhibition in Milan in 1972. Remnants of Vitex agnus castus, an action performed at the opening of that exhibition, complete the work.
Beuys was interested in questions of posterity throughout his career. He frequently organized retrospective groups of his work into “blocks” for exhibition and also developed an alternative curriculum vitae, his Lebenslauf/Werklauf (Life Course/Work Course, 1964–70), which interweaves fictional events with personal history. Arena partially functions as a visual analogue to his Life Course/Work Course and is the artist’s only major photographic project. A single found photograph of the Roman amphitheater in Verona alludes to the work’s title and suggests Beuys viewed the writing of history as a theater for debate.
Despite being an archive of work to date, Arena is deliberately illegible as a historical record. Some photographs are torn, crumpled, and obscured with paint, wax, fat, or Braunkreuz (an oil-based medium that he frequently used) to emphasize their status as evocations rather than documentation. No particular chronology guides the organization of images in each panel. Further, the panels themselves can be arranged in a number of ways, including hung on the wall, propped against the wall, or stacked into piles.
Beuys believed in making Social Sculpture that could “mould and shape the world we live in.” Brasilienfond (Brazilian Fond), Fond III/3, and Fond IV/4 (all 1979) embody this idea. Each sculpture consists of stacked piles of heavy felt that are covered or supported by copper or iron plates. Beuys saw his Fonds as batteries—devices for receiving, storing, and sending energy. The felt symbolized protective insulation, while the conductive qualities of the metals implied transmissions. The charged nature of these works is palpable when standing next to the tall U-shaped rounds of Brasilienfond. The felt absorbs the surround- ing sound waves, resulting in a dull pulsating silence, which gives the impression that the sculpture is literally teeming with energy. In a different edition of Fond IV/4, Beuys made this sonic relationship explicit, mounting a felt “loudspeaker” above the sculpture to capture and store acoustic vibrations. A working drawing for Fond IV/4 is included Dia’s collection of works on paper for the multiple Joseph Beuys: Zeichnungen zu den beiden 1965 wiederentdeckten Skizzenbücher “Codices Madrid” von Leonardo da Vinci (Joseph Beuys: Drawings After the Two “Codices Madrid” Sketchbooks of Leonardo da Vinci That Were Rediscovered in 1965, published in 1975).