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Das Rudel

In the upper gallery is this by Joseph Beuys (1921-86), considered one of the most influential figures in modern and contemporary art. His charismatic presence and unconventional style gained him international fame and notoriety in the 1960s but his innovative influence is still felt today.


Das Rudel or The Pack exudes the chaotic and dynamic energy which Beuys considered essential in order to bring change to society. Twenty-four sledges, resembling a pack of dogs, tumble from the back of a VW van. Each one carries a survival kit including a roll of felt for warmth, animal fat for energy and sustenance, and a torch for navigation and orientation. Beuys commented: ‘In a state of emergency the Volkswagen bus is of limited usefulness, and more direct and primitive means must be taken to ensure survival.’


Beuys based it on a particular day in his Luftwaffe career, when, on a March day in 1944, his Stuka was shot down over the Crimea and he was rescued by Crimean Tartars. He recalled the story decades later:


"The last thing I remember was that it was too late to jump, too late for the parachutes to open. That must have been a couple of seconds before hitting the ground. Luckily I was not strapped in — I always preferred free movement to safety belts… My friend was strapped in and he was atomized on impact,there was almost nothing to be found of him afterwards. But I must have shot through the windscreen as it flew back at the same speed as the plane hit the ground and that saved me, though I had bad skull and jaw injuries. Then the tail flipped over and I was completely buried in the snow. That’s how the Tartars found me days later. I remember voices saying “voda” (water), then the felt of their tents, and the dense pungent smell of cheese, fat and milk. They covered my body in fat to help it regenerate warmth, and wrapped it in felt as an insulator to keep warmth in."

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Taken on January 4, 2010