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Tallow | Joseph Beuys

August 6, 2016

Tallow was created for the 1977 outdoor sculpture exhibition in Münster. With the project, Beuys’s aim was to question the underlying motives behind the urban planning that produces concrete deserts. By traditional standards, the site he chose, a concrete underpass to a university auditorium, was the worst possible; under the access ramp was a dead corner, a deep wedge-shaped acute angle in which nothing but dirt could collect. It’s in this spot that Beuys chose to take an exact cast; in the process, a negative vacuum was transformed into a positive form–the sculpture.

Twenty tons of mutton fat granules, mixed with a few drums of beef fat for extra firmness, were melted day and night at a concrete factory outside the city. The fat was poured into a reinforced plywood mould five metres high, which was buttressed with beams after it burst under the pressure of the molten substance. After a month and a half the contents of the mould were still completely fluid; after three months it was finally cool. According to Beuys, “This is the first sculpture that will never get cold, and if it gets cold it will never get warm again.”

The whole undertaking represents an extraordinary example of absurd artistic licence put to didactic and provocative use, a critique of the soullnessness of our environment transformed into a survival battery of warm energy: a reserve of fat.

Text (redacted) is by Caroline Tisdall and accompanies the piece at Hamburger Banhof Museum.

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