Documenting DOCUMENTA: A haudenschildGarage Project with Matthew Schum

banner image
The Legacy of Beuys’ Erweiterter Kunstbegriff

: I was eavesdropping from one of the tables out in front of the Fridericianum when I overheard you talking about your experience in 1972 at Documenta 5, curated by Harald Szeemann. This exhibition marks a turning point in contemporary art credited with making Documenta what it is today. You said it was clear at the time that the exhibition was a complete redefinition of art. What made it seem so different in 1972?

Dirk Schwarze: The visitors of art exhibitions expected paintings, drawings and sculptures. But in Documenta 5 they saw photos, videos, a circle of stones (Richard Long), an igloo, artworks of people with mental defects and actions (performances). A lot of people didn’t accept this change—most of them didn’t know Dada, Fluxus and Arte Povera. There had been many people who thought that this would be Entartete Kunst (degenerate art).

MS: How did the Joseph Beuys’ Organization for Direct Democracy  installation reflect this change in art at that time?

DS: It was during the third Documenta that Joseph Beuys had been invited. In 1964 and 1968 he had shown objects and installations. Now, in 1972, he didn’t show anything because he realized, for the first time, his new understanding of art (Erweiterter Kunstbegriff). In the center of his Documenta work he stood thinking and talking.

MS: What was your role in the Organization for Direct Democracy ?

Joseph Beuys standing in his Documenta office in 1972 (photo: Dirk Schwarze)

DS: I was sitting in the background of the office for the whole day (from 10:00am to 8:00pm) and writing down what the visitors said to Beuys and what he himself answered. Most of the visitors didn’t notice me.

MS: What responses by the audience stand out in your mind? Were they in general angered or amused?

DS: Some visitors thought Beuys had become stupid; others were amused or asked what this discussion had to do with art. But most of them were engaged, very strongly.

MS: How did you and your fellow collaborators feel about working with Beuys? What experience did you walk away with?

DS: At first I didn’t know exactly the meaning of Beuys’ discussions,  but we felt that they were important for the future of art. For myself, it was the starting point for a lot of talks with Beuys. If you look on my internet blog ( ) you will see how often I wrote about Beuys.

MS: Thank you Herr Schwarze.