Notice to Guests

[Notice to Guests]

  • 1974
  • Offset with dollar bill, inscribed
    In frame, 20.2 x 25.2 x 1.5 cm
  • Edition: 120 plus XX, signed and numbered, plus 40, unnumbered
  • Publisher: Edition Staeck, Heidelberg
  • Catalogue Raisonné No.: 139

In 1974 Beuys visited Chicago, and it was during this trip that Notice to Guests was conceived. The work consists of a framed reproduction of a hotel notice informing guests that a safe is available for their valuables. Affixed to its surface is a dollar bill signed by Beuys, though not with his own name. Instead he has inscribed the name of John Dillinger, a Depression-era gangster. By assuming Dillinger’s identity in this work, Beuys was not simply being playful: he was also affirming his belief in the sovereign power of creativity.

Throughout his career Beuys was fascinated by Dillinger, a notoriously violent bank robber from the Midwest, whose years-long efforts to elude the authorities made him a figure of great renown in the 1920s and ‘30s. Without wishing to romanticise his violent acts, Beuys was drawn to Dillinger’s lawlessness, which he viewed as a potent expression of creative energy. Describing this attraction to Klaus Staeck, who accompanied him to Chicago and published Notice to Guests, Beuys remarked: ‘I place great value in the energy one finds in a biography like that of John Dillinger. These energies [sic] that in Dillinger’s case were negatively polarised, can also yield a positive impulse.’1 Caroline Tisdall has explained that the ‘positive impulse’ to which Beuys alluded was the sheer creativity of criminal activity, which arises without regard for existing conventions and constraints.2 Bracketing the antisocial content of Dillinger’s behaviour, Beuys drew inspiration from his willingness to break with the status quo; for in order to give rise to something new, all creative acts must be transgressive. It was for this reason, Beuys claimed, that he had ‘always lived with the ideas of John Dillinger.’3

  1. Klaus Staeck, Beuys in Amerika (Heidelberg: Staeck, 1987),120. 

  2. Caroline Tisdall, Joseph Beuys (London: Thames and Hudson, 1979), 235. 

  3. Klaus Staeck, Beuys in Amerika (Heidelberg: Staeck, 1987), 120. 

    Photo 1

    © Mario Gastinger, Photographics, Munich

    Katalog Museum Mönchengladbach 1967