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Conservation project: Richtkräfte (Directive Forces)/Joseph Beuys (2013)

Conserving Directive Forces – this was the title given to the public conservation project carried out in 2013. Created as part of a performance, Joseph Beuys’ installation Directive Forces for a New Society (1974–77) today numbers among the principal works in the Nationalgalerie’s collection.

When dealing with a sculpture that owes its origins to a piece of performance art, how is it possible to distinguish traces of the artist’s handiwork from actual damage? This was the challenge faced by conservators at the Hamburger Bahnhof. In order to build up a picture of how the blackboards would have looked, they consulted original spectators and art historians, while researching photographic documentation and historical sources, and performing analyses of the material itself. The particular challenge was to distinguish signs of deterioration from traces of handiwork intentionally left behind by Beuys. Such deliberate features include footprints, fingerprints, and the imprints of brushes and sponges, which bear testimony to the process-driven, interactive way in which Directive Forces was created.

Thus, for the first time it was possible to document the physical evolution of the work, forming a continuous chronological record from the performance itself right through to the moment the installation was declared an artwork. Undertaken as a partnership between the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and the Ernst von Siemens Art Foundation, the conservators’ treatments – which were focused primarily on the 100 blackboards – could be carried out as part of a temporary open conservation studio within the space of the museum.