Artists Destroy Beuys Sculpture to Make Booze

Joseph Beuys (1967) Photo: Liselotte Strelow via Landschaftsverband Rheinland

Joseph Beuys (1967)
Photo: Liselotte Strelow via Landschaftsverband Rheinland

Three artists have used the remnants of Joseph Beuys' renowned Fettecke (1982) to distill schnapps in Düsseldorf. For the performance, professor of art in Bremen Markus Löffler and artists Andree Korpys and Dieter Schmal used a four pound chunk of the over 30-year-old sculpture and a dusting of blue pigment from an Yves Klein edition to distill a 160 proof alcohol, which was then cut down to around four liters of 100 proof schnapps.

Then, clearly, there was only one thing left to do: drink. “The taste is reminiscent of Parmesan," Löffler told the dpa on Tuesday. “It stays with you for a long time afterwards." Viewers of the performance and subsequent visitors to the museum were also offered a drop or two of the liquor.

After over 30 years, the fat was undoubtedly rancid. And though the consumption of rancid fats can lead to health problems that run the gamut from vitamin deficiencies to acute respiratory failure and death, the artist trio wasn't fazed. “You can make liquor out of anything," Loeffler told the news agency. Apparently, they have previously distilled (and presumably drank) liquor made from books and a bust of Dieter Roth.

The performance was part of the Düsseldorf Quadriennale and the Museum Kunstpalast's current show "Art and Alchemy," but what of the moral implications of destroying a famous work of art? The four-pound remaining portion of Fettecke was given to the artists by Johannes Stüttgen, who saved it in 1986 after the majority of the work had been cleared out of the Kunsthakademie Düsseldorf nine months after Beuys's death. He fought a legal battle in order to save it from the academy's trash room and claim ownership of the work. But does that give him the right to destroy it at his will?

According to Beuys's widow Eva Beuys, absolutely not. She called the performance “crap and stupid," speaking to Germany's Bild on Wednesday. She claimed that her late husband's rights have been violated by the destructive act, and said that after hearing the news, she had gotten “red cheeks out of anger." Eva Beuys said that the museum failed to inform her or her daughter Jessica about the performance, which she went on to call an act of slander against her husband.

Though she refused to comment on the performance itself and said she won't sue the institution or the “stupid and crudely unfeeling" artists who initiated the performance, the widow had some choice words for Stüttgen. She claims that after rescuing the now-destroyed portion of Fettecke, Stüttgen made her sign a document confirming the work's authenticity and subsequently showed it in exhibitions. “Now," she tells Bild, “He has made a farce of the work and a farce of my husband who can no longer defend himself."