“We do not need all that we are meant to buy today to satisfy profit-based private capitalism.”
According to Joseph Beuys, art is a currency that can change society. His blackboard work Kunst=Kapital (1980) expresses the idea that art is the only true national product. Art is a form of spiritual capital, not an investment that can generate material value. Mental and social capital cannot be replaced by anything else, and education is the way to increase it – without forgetting the free-flowing creativity within us.
The first priority for Beuys was the reorganisation of economic mechanisms that are based on property and ownership. Western private capitalism and Eastern state capitalism both needed to be abolished. An early advocate of common currency, Beuys can be seen as a pioneering champion of the European Union. In Beuys’s vision, the economy should not be constrained by the boundaries of nation states but should instead take as its primary objective the satisfaction of all needs and affiliate itself with the ideals of liberty, fraternity and equality.
He did his utmost to promote an organic, living economic order, a practical transformation of the concept of money that would constitutionally be based on the universal right to work. According to him, money is symbolically bound to the entire biosphere and should be allowed to circulate freely through all levels of society. In many of his works, such as the Economic Values installation, he explored the explanations and theories associated with these ideas. Included in the exhibition at EMMA, Bruno-Corà-Teé is an example of the way Beuys commented ironically on capitalist consumer society. A very Beuysian conceit, the tea-filled Coca-Cola bottle is an ordinary consumer item that is transformed into a readymade work of art that symbolises the Western way of life while being transformed into a different kind of commodity.
Beuys saw the continuous economic growth as impossible for Beuys an impossibility both economically and environmentally. Economic growth adds to the wealth of a small part of the population at the expense of the common good. Art is the only source from which a new kind of economy can arise, one in which the satisfaction of needs is not based on consumption and overexploitation of natural resources. The concept of continuous economic growth is unfortunately still popular in economics, however, and for the time being, Beuys’s vision of economic equality remains a dream.
“We have an obligation to show what we have produced by our creativity.”
Photo: Kunst=Kapital (Art=Capital), 1974, from the collection of Muzeum Sztuki w Łodźi, Poland