• 1969
  • Wooden sled, felt, belts, flashlight and fat. Sled stamped with oil paint (Browncross).
    35 x 90 x 35 cm
  • Edition: 50 plus 5 h.c., numbered, unsigned
  • Publisher: Galerie René Block, Berlin
  • Catalogue Raisonné No.: 12

The image of the sled reoccurs throughout Beuys’s oeuvre. In early drawings, it is often referred to as an Ur-Sled, an allusion to its status as one of the earliest forms of transport.9 He was especially fascinated by the immediacy of this kind of motion. As he explained to Caroline Tisdall in 1978, ‘[t]he most direct kind of movement over the earth is the sliding of the iron runners of the sleds….’1 He prized this directness for the intimate proximity it offers to the natural environment, as the sled slides and scrapes across the open ground.

Beuys often described the sled as a rescue vehicle, a function it fulfilled in his oft-told, yet apocryphal account of being rescued by Crimean Tartars following a plane crash in the Second World War. The Tartars, he recounted, towed him on a sled as he recovered from the wounds he had sustained in the crash.2 This rescue function is foregrounded in the multiple Sled, one of two works by Beuys from 1969 to make use of real sleds. The first of these was The Pack, which features a group of sleds spilling out of a Volkswagen van, each equipped with a grey felt blanket, a flashlight and a hardened lump of fat. Describing this ‘pack’ of objects to Wulf Herzogenrath in 1972, Beuys observed:

There, where a catastrophe has taken place…, the wounded might only be reachable with this kind of instrument, not with a more highly-developed vehicle. In a state of emergency, one has to reach back to primitive means.3

Each of the objects carried by the members of The Pack helps support their rescue function. The flashlight, lump of fat and blanket, he went on to explain, were intended to offer ‘orientation, sustenance and warmth, those things that in extreme situations are required for basic survival.’4 Featuring the same three objects, Sled also expresses this intention. In contrast to the The Pack, however, the fifty sleds that make up the multiple can fan out individually, to exercise their rescue activities across a broader area.

  1. Caroline Tisdall, Joseph Beuys (London: Thames and Hudson, 1979), 190. Elsewhere in his practice, Beuys’s decision to strap an iron plate to one of his feet during the performances How to explain paintings to a dead hare (1965) and Eurasian Staff (1967), was intended to facilitate this kind of contact. For an account of these performances see Uwe M. Schneede, Joseph Beuys, Die Aktionen, (Ostfildern-Ruit: Verlag Gerd Hatje, 1994), 102-107, 186-201. 

  2. This story was first made public in Tisdall, Joseph Beuys, 16. For a thorough account of its history, together with its fictional and mythical elements, see Peter Nisbet, ‘Crash Course. Remarks on a Beuys Story,’ in: Gene Ray (ed.), Joseph Beuys. Mapping the Legacy (New York: D.A.P. / Distributed Art Publishers, Inc., 2001), 6-7. 

  3. Dort, wo eine Katastrophe geschieht…, wird man vielleicht nur mit gleitartigen Instrumenten an den Verunglückten herankommen können, nicht mit einem hochentwickelten technischen Bewegungsgerät. Man wird wieder zu primitiven Mitteln greiffen müssen in der Not.

    Beuys in Herzogenrath (ed.), Selbstdarstellung, Künstler über sich (Düsseldorf: Droste Verlag, 1973), 31. 

  4. Ibid. 

    Fotos 1, 2

    © H. Koyupinar, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen

    Intuition1968 Ja Ja Ja Ja Ja, Nee Nee Nee Nee Nee 1969