Back to Information Office


Joseph Beuys visited America for the first time in January 1974. By then his reputation was well-established in Europe, but he had avoided coming to the United States during our governmentıs involvement in the Vietnam War and was still relatively unknown here. He finally accepted an invitation from two art dealers who shared an interest in his work: Ronald Feldman, who ran a gallery in New York, and John Stoller, director of Dayton's Gallery 12 in Minneapolis. But Beuys didn't want to bring sculptures or objects for exhibition, instead he planned an exhibition of ideas in the form of a lecture tour.

Feldman and Stoller organized a 10-day, three-city circuit with stops in New York, Chicago, and Minneapolis. Because of Beuys' interest in education, lectures were scheduled at colleges--the New School for Social Research in Manhattan, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design (MCAD), and the University of Minnesota. His talks, which often lasted several hours, were rambling tours of his ambitious proposal for a complete retooling of the relationship between art, science, culture, and economics. During each talk he made a diagrammatic drawing, usually on a blackboard. The news media was attentive (Newsweek covered the trip) and his talks drew overflow crowds--sometimes sympathetic and sometimes hostile.

The debates, discussions, and press conferences formed the artwork, but for those who were unable to attend the talks Beuys produced some 16 multiples, most of which are on view in this exhibition. Many of them have an anecdote attached. One features an image of a rabbit that Beuys noticed on a sugar packet while dining at Nye's Polonaise Room in Minneapolis. Enlisting the help of his dinner partners, he searched the sugar supply on each table, as well as in the restaurant's storeroom, for as many packets as he could find. With the addition of his rubber-stamped Haupstrom (Main Stream) image, they became the edition of 40 entitled American Hare Sugar (1974).

The suite of six prints entitled Minneapolis Fragments (1977) began when Beuys drew on zinc printing plates instead of a blackboard during his University of MInnesota lecture. He took the plates back to Germany and had them printed three years later to make the multiple. The two Surrender (1974) leaflets were thrown by students during his lecture at MCAD; the Noiseless Blackboard Eraser (1974) was of the type used to erase Beuys' blackboard diagram after the "New School" lecture; and the videotape Dillinger (1974) is a record of Beuys' spontaneous action in front of Chicago's Biograph Theater, where the gangster John Dillinger was shot to death. In addition to these and other multiples, there is other documentation of the tour, such as videotapes of the lectures, posters, and photographs. Three of the blackboard drawings he produced were saved and now belong to the Des Moines Art Center, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and a private collection.

Beuys named the lecture tour "Energy Plan for the Western Man" and saw it as a chance to reinvigorate an enervated Western culture that was on the brink (at least in the United States) of an "energy crisis." He said he wanted to talk about "the whole question of potential, the possibility that everybody has now to do his own particular kind of art, his own work, for the new social organization. Creativity is national income." The trip was the beginning of a relationship with American audiences that continues, even after the artist's death, to be controversial, stimulating, and energetic.

-Joan Rothfuss, Walker Art Center curator

Next gallery guide

Noisless Blackboard Erasers
Joseph Beuys three examples of Noiseless Blackboard Eraser, 1974
felt eraser, paper label, ink stamp
(c)1997 Estate of Joseph Beuys/ARS, NY

American Hare Sugar
Joseph Beuys American Hare Sugar,1974
sugar packet, ink stamp
Alfred and Marie Greisinger Collection, Walker Art Center, T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 1992
(c)1997 Estate of Joseph Beuys/ARS, NY


Kuoni, Carin, ed. Energy Plan for the Western Man: Writings by and Interviews with the Artist. New York: Four Walls Eight Windows, 1990.

Staeck, Klaes and Gerhard Steidl. Beuys in Amerika. Heidelberg: Edition Staeck, 1987.