Cosmos and Damian Polished

[Cosmos und Damian gebohnert]

  • 1975
  • Proof sheet of postcard, mounted on grey cardboard; shoe polish
    44.5 x 34.5 x 0.5 cm
  • Edition: 60 plus XV, signed and numbered
  • Publisher: Edition Staeck, Heidelberg
  • Catalogue Raisonné No.: 156

This uncut proof sheet for a postcard shows four identical views of Manhattan’s World Trade Center Towers. The slight blurring effect within the image stems from the source from which it was copied, a 3-D postcard Beuys had purchased in New York in 1974, during his first visit to the United States.1 In reissuing the postcard as a multiple, Beuys made two changes to its appearance. The first was to coat it in a layer of translucent, yellow-tinted shoe polish, and the second was to write the words ‘Cosmos’ and ‘Damian’ along the front façades of the towers. Together, these interventions transformed the towers from symbols of American capitalism into emblems of a new social order, which Beuys hoped to foster with his art.

As Johannes Stüttgen has recounted, Beuys’s recolouring of the towers was intended to transmute them into two giant sticks of butter.2 Beuys often used butter in his art as a bearer of spiritual warmth, a form of energy he viewed as the source of all change and creativity. By transfiguring the drab grey towers into glowing pillars of warm energy, he was thus refashioning them as immense beacons of creativity.

The words ‘Cosmos’ and ‘Damian’ help clarify the kind of creative activity that Beuys hoped to stimulate with this work. Together, they refer to two early Christian saints, Cosmas and Damian who were active in the 3rd century C.E. and worked as travelling physicians. The healing mission of the saints appealed to Beuys, who throughout his career conceived art as a source of therapeutic experience.3 Beginning in the early 1970s, he used his own art to call for the inception of a more egalitarian society, which would redress the shortcomings of existing political systems. Cosmos and Damian Polished formed part of this initiative and by inscribing the names of the saints on the sides of the Trade Center towers, Beuys aligned his social project with their healing mission. While conceived first and foremost as a call for social change in the United States, the work in fact makes a broader appeal, conveyed via Beuys’s decision to write the name Cosmas as ‘Cosmos.’ By means of this alteration, he alluded to the fact that his social aspirations were not confined to a single context, but were instead universal.

  1. See notes for Cosmos and Damian (1974) [P20] in Jörg Schellmann (ed.), Joseph Beuys: The Multiples (Munich, New York: Editions Schellmann, 1997), 503. 

  2. Johannes Stüttgen, ‘Vier Visionen,’ in ed. Lucrezio De Domizio Durini, Beuys Voice, 582. Stüttgen’s discussion of this work has been echoed by René Block, who recalls a meeting with Beuys in New York in 1975, in which Beuys noted the resemblance of the towers to two sticks of American butter, whose shape and proportions they shared. (Rene Block, ‘Aus Berlin: Neues vom Kojoten – oder was wirklich in New York geschah.’ Unpublished lecture delivered at K20, Schmela Haus, Düsseldorf, April 29, 2010.)  

  3. As Beuys once remarked to Caroline Tisdall, ‘The medical partnership of Cosmas and Damian is a famous example of friendship and cooperation.‘ (Beuys, cited in Caroline Tisdall, Joseph Beuys: We Go This Way (London: Violette Editions, 1998), 33.)  

    Photo 1

    © Mario Gastinger, Photographics, Munich

    Katalog Museum Mönchengladbach 1967