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On West 22nd Street, Joseph Beuys and the Present Company of Artists

May 12 is the birthday of Joseph Beuys (1921-1986), a highly versatile German artist who influenced many of the multimedia practices of contemporary art. He was known for his social and political activism, unconventional gallery performances, a passion for teaching, and a charismatic personality topped with a felt hat. A self-styled shaman, he frequently drew upon the inspiration of coyotes and wolves.

One of the most notorious art performances in American history, I like America and America likes Me, took place in 1974 when Beuys spent three days in a room in the René Block Gallery in SoHo (409 Broadway, gallery now long gone) with a live coyote. Art critic John Russell in The New York Times recalled the spectacle for a review of a “memorial exhibition” of Beuys’ work at Ronald Feldman in 1986:

“In the cage with him were some piles of straw, a heap of copies of The Wall Street Journal of the day, a battered old hat from the best hatter in London and - here was the surprise - a live coyote that had been shipped into town for the run of the show after complicated legal negotiations. The coyote and Joseph Beuys formed, beyond a doubt, as odd a couple as we had ever seen.”
- from "Art: Joseph Beuys at the Feldman Gallery," The New York Times, October 31, 1986 (full article)

On West 22nd Street in Chelsea, a glimpse of Joseph Beuys' 7000 Eichen (7000 Oaks).

If interested in Beuys, and you may be now, West 22nd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues should be among your first stops. I can’t promise a live coyote,* but along this block, you’ll find the installation 7000 Eichen (7000 Oaks), a continuation of a project that Beuys began in 1982 at Documenta 7 in Kassel, Germany.

With 7000 Eichen (7000 Oaks), Beuys envisioned the planting of 7,000 trees, each accompanied by a four-foot basal stone, throughout the city of Kassel. As a call for environmental awareness and social change, Beuys hoped the project would be extended throughout the world.

The Dia Art Foundation, located on this block of W. 22nd Street, provided major support for the initial project, carried forward and completed in 1987. After the artist’s death, in 1988 the foundation installed five pairs of stone and trees in New York along W. 22nd. The project was expanded in 1996 with the addition of 18 stones and trees, including two different types of oaks, a Ginkgo, a Linden, and an Elm Honey Locust.     

While walking past the trees on W. 22nd Street, gallery visitors may easily overlook the pairings. The trees and stones have gracefully settled into the urban landscape. On a recent walk, I observed several people casually leaning against the stones to talk on their cell phones or use them as a convenient prop to rustle through a purse or a bag.

Hauser & Wirth spaces on W. 22nd St.

In addition to Dia and the Beuys installation, this block of W. 22nd Street serves as home to several high-profile galleries, including Hauser & Wirth’s Chelsea space, Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Lehmann Maupin, PPOW, Allan Stone Projects, and others.

Many current exhibitions in galleries on W. 22nd Street should lure visitors off the High Line and into the galleries below. (From the High Line, take the W. 23rd Street staircase or elevator west of 10th Ave., and walk one block south.)

Hauser & Wirth’s Chelsea temporary space at 548 W 22nd St., the former home for Dia, currently hosts an exhibition exploring the role of books in the art of German-born Swiss artist Dieter Roth (1930 – 1998). Son and collaborator Björn Roth has reassembled their studio in Basel as its own oversized work of art, down to the scores of marking pens in jars, boxes of various art materials, and objects of visual interest. A visit to Hauser & Wirth Publisher‘s bookstore and the Roth New York Bar, a bar and cafe with an excellent selection of teas, easily extends the visit. You’ll also notice that the gallery is building a permanent home next door.

Books. Dieter Roth. Björn Roth. Studio continues through July 29, 2017. Hauser & Wirth New York, 22nd Street. Gallery website

W. 22nd Street is home for the Dia Art Foundation.

Dia Art Foundation, stretching across several addresses on W. 22nd St., is presenting Hanne Darboven’s Kulturgeschichte 1880–1983 (Cultural History 1880–1983, 1980–83), a mind-boggling assemblage of 1,590 works on paper and 19 sculptures that functions as part artist autobiography and part history of our times. Expect to pay $8 to see it; $6 for students and seniors. Free on Friday from 3-6 p.m. Through July 29, 2017. Website

At the two Matthew Marks spaces on W. 22nd, look for Ellsworth Kelly’s Last Paintings (522 W 22nd) and Plant Drawings (526 W, 22nd). Kelly created the paintings in the months before his death in December 2015, and these minimalist works show economical yet intense explorations of color and form. Stay with them awhile, and you’ll see. The exhibitions continue through June 14, 2017. Website

Fans of Deborah Butterfield’s sculptural engagement with the horse will want to see her new work at Danese/Corey (511 W. 22nd St.). Several of the works incorporate debris from the 2011 tsunami in Japan, and two extraordinary horses are made from burnt wood the artist collected from a forest fire near her home in Montana. The horses are all element and spirit, great moving creatures of form and grace. Deborah Butterfield New Sculpture continues through June 23, 2017. Website

Images by Walking Off the Big Apple from May 9, 2017.

* In April 2015 the NYPD captured a live coyote in Chelsea near W. 28th St. and Ninth Avenue. (NY Daily News story. )

See also the post, Art Trip Up the River: A Visit to Dia:Beacon (2012)

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