Contradictory Modernities: Conceptions of Nature in the Art of Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter

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In this paper, I explore the tension between different intellectual traditions concerning the relationship between nature and modernity as they are manifested in the work of postwar German artists Joseph Beuys and Gerhard Richter. I show that they represent contrasting intellectual and aesthetic traditions. For Beuys, nature holds innate meanings capable of guiding human thought and action, whereas for Richter, nature is simply a screen onto which we project our own cultural imprints. I conclude that these differing perspectives help to elucidate contemporary intellectual concerns over the relationship between nature-based ideologies and the ecological critique of modernity. By extending our understanding of “social nature” to the cultural arena, we can discern new ways of exploring relations between society and nature.>

Keywords: Gerhard Richter; Joseph Beuys; Nature; aesthetics; landscape; modernity

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University College London

Publication date: December 1, 1997

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