from ’3 Ton Edition’

[aus '3-Tonnen Edition']

  • 1973–1985
  • Vinyl sheet silkscreened on both sides, with brown oil paint (Browncross)
    46 x 45.5 cm
  • Edition: Approx. 560 copies, the majority with additional work in oil paint (Browncross). This copy stamped, signed and numbered
  • Publisher: Edition Staeck, Heidelberg
  • Catalogue Raisonné No.: 74A

This image belongs to Beuys’s 3 Ton Edition, a series of 44 photographs printed on sheets of PVC. The photographs were taken by Lothar Wolleh in 1971 and depict Beuys in the process of installing an exhibition at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm. They were originally to be used for an ‘underwater book’, to be issued in an edition of 200 copies with a total weight of three tons. For technical reasons, however, this project could not be realised. Starting in 1973, Beuys reworked the unbound images using Brown Cross paint, stamps and collage elements. He then offered them for sale individually, with the common title 3 Ton Edition, through Edition Staeck.1

The image shown here depicts a large work on paper by Beuys on which the words ‘The Silence of Marcel Duchamp is Overrated’ [Das Schweigen von Marcel Duchamp wird überbewertet] have been painted.2 By including a reproduction of this work in the 3 Ton Edition, Beuys reminded the public of his long-standing criticisms of Duchamp. The ‘silence’ to which Beuys was referring was the result of Duchamp’s decision to stop making art in the early 1920s.3 In doing so, Beuys believed that he had failed to follow through on the promise of his Readymades, a new form of artwork he invented in the mid-1910s.4 Consisting of everyday objects that Duchamp declared to be artworks, the Readymades advanced the claim that anything could serve as art, provided it was recognised as such by an artist and accepted by art world institutions.

Beuys greatly valued the concept of the Readymade and made frequent use of readymade elements in his art. Many of his multiples, for instance, consist of found objects that he signed or stamped, in this way defining them as artworks. In contrast to Duchamp, however, he did not seek acceptance for these objects within the existing limits of the art world. While Duchamp wished to see his works acknowledged by museums and galleries, Beuys considered such institutions to be cut off from the everyday world.5 In an effort to breakdown this segregation, Beuys used his Readymades, and a range of other projects, to make art available throughout society, where he felt it could play a crucial role in effecting social change.

In light of these expansive ambitions, Beuys regarded Duchamp’s work as conservative. As he explained to Irmeline Lebeer in 1980: ‘I criticise him [Duchamp] because at the very moment when he could have developed a theory on the basis of the work he had accomplished, he kept silent. And I am the one who, today, develops the theory he could have developed.’6

  1. On the circumstances of the 3 Ton Edition’s production, see Jörg Schellmann (ed.), Joseph Beuys: Die Multiples (München, New York: Verlag Edition Schellmann, 1997), 442. 

  2. This work featured as a prop in a 1964 performance by Beuys, which was also entitled ‘The Silence of Marcel Duchamp is Overrated’. 

  3. Having created many innovative and important works in the 1910s, from the early 1920s onward Duchamp began to focus his attentions on playing chess. Though he did create occasional works thereafter, these were few and far between and were not always made public. 

  4. For a summation of Beuys’s views on Duchamp, which were not limited to the criticism that he had failed to build on the significance of his Readymades, see Uwe M. Schneede, Joseph Beuys. Die Aktionen (Ostfildern-Ruit: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1994), 81. 

  5. For Beuys’s views on museums, see Frans Haks ‘Interview with Joseph Beuys,’ in Karel Blotkamp (ed.), Museum in Motion? (Eindhoven: Stedelijk Van Abbe-Museum, 1979), 184–196; and Beuys, ‘Das Museum – ein Ort der permanenten Konferenz’ in Horst Gurnitzky (ed.), Notizbuch 3 (Berlin: Medusa, 1980), 46–74.  

  6. Beuys (quoted in French), ‘Interview with Irmeline Lebeer,’ Cahiers du Musée national d’art moderne 4 (1980), 176. English translation: Thierry de Duve, ‘Don’t Shoot the Messenger, Artforum, November, 2013, 276.  

    Photo 1

    © Mario Gastinger, Photographics, Munich

    Capri Battery1985 Iphigenia/Titus Andronicus 1985