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Strategy: Get Arts

In 1970 the Richard Demarco Gallery in collaboration with the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf organised the groundbreaking exhibition, Strategy: Get Arts. This celebration of art from Düsseldorf was held at the Edinburgh College of Art during the Edinburgh International Festival. Demarco visited West Germany in January 1970 and soon after plans were developed for the exhibition. He had been drawn to Düsseldorf as a number of artists he respected including Günther Uecker and Heinz Mack (who had exhibited at the Richard Demarco Gallery in 1966), Konrad Klapheck and Joseph Beuys were all living and working in the city. Demarco had first encountered Beuys at Documenta IV in Kassel in 1968. He wrote in the catalogue to Strategy: Get Arts of a simultaneously “most disturbing and most beautiful” memory of that exhibition. Düsseldorf had been dubbed the “Paris of the Rhine” by Time magazine and Karl Ruhrberg, Director of the Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, wrote in the Strategy: Get Arts catalogue that the city had “never been as fresh and lively, as critical and restive as it is today.”

Richard Demarco described Strategy: Get Arts as an exhibition “in progress” in the Edinburgh Tatler. The Edinburgh College of Art was chosen as a venue because:
“the exhibition is a kind of ‘non-exhibition’… It was intended… to point the way to the new directions which today’s artists must take if they are to survive the powerful competition from cinema, television and other forms of mass media which are more easily available to the general public. I deliberately chose the exhibition to be in the Edinburgh College of Art and not in an art gallery proper. This was fitting as the exhibition made a comment on the nature of art education. I deliberately asked the artists to use the building in such a way so that the reality of it could be redefined almost as an art object in itself.”

“Strategy: Get Arts” banner being installed at the Edinburgh College of Art, August 1970.
Photograph by George Oliver; courtesy of the Demarco European Art Foundation Archive.

Strategy: Get Arts took place at the College from 23 August to 12 September 1970. The title of the exhibition is a palindrome created by André Thomkins. Many of the artists came to Edinburgh to create new work for the exhibition. In the entrance hall Klaus Rinke installed a jet of water that visitors had to negotiate. Stefan Wewerka’s broken chairs littered the main staircase beneath Blinky Palermo’s wall painting Blue/yellow/white/red. Gotthard Graubner created a mist room in a space off the Sculpture Court. There were film screenings by Morgan, Mommartz, Böhmler, Kohlhöfer and Kagel. Robert Filliou engaged participants in a game and Daniel Spoerri staged a feast – the Bananatrap Dinner.

Joseph Beuys exhibited three works at Strategy: Get Arts. He installed The Pack, a Volkswagen van with trail of twenty-four sledges tumbling from its rear door. Each sledge contained a survival kit made up of a roll of felt, a lump of animal fat, and a torch. He performed an action, Celtic (Kinloch Rannoch) Scottish Symphony, and displayed a series of photographs documenting his sculptures and actions which was the first manifestation of the work known as Arena.

Left to right: Michael Pye, Joseph Beuys, Cordelia Oliver (partly obscured), Lesley Benyon and Richard Demarco in front of Das Rudel/The Pack (1969) by Joseph Beuys, installed at Edinburgh College of Art for Strategy: Get Arts, August 1970.
Photograph by George Oliver; courtesy of the Demarco European Art Foundation Archive.

Richard Demarco reflected on the exhibition in Pages magazine:
“I had always wanted an exhibition which would restore my faith in the activity of the visual artist in 20th century society, and which would help redefine the role of the gallery director. I had looked for an exhibition which would emphasise the artist’s role as a powerful defender of the truth inherent in fairy tales and as a magician able to revive our sense of wonder. I wanted an exhibition which would free the artist if he wished from the responsibility of making master works, revealing more clearly his act of creating and his acceptance of his role as a performer involving every new means of communication with the so-called layman. I wanted an exhibition which would weaken the spirit of materialism, from which more than ever the artist must rescue us. The Dusseldorf artists gave me that exhibition.”

The exhibition generated considerable media interest. Edward Gage in The Scotsman described it as “a massive happening”. Edward Lucie-Smith in The Sunday Times welcomed its questioning of “the whole direction being taken by the visual arts.” Michael Shepherd wrote “the effects of this art can be magical” in The Sunday Telegraph and Time Out’s Simon Field saw it as a “revelation”. He noted that “it gave a glimpse of a vitality we are only used to accepting from the States.” However not all critics were in favour. On the BBC radio programme, Orbit, Nicholas Fairbairn described it as arrogant, with the artwork substituted by the artist. Debate simmered on newspaper letters pages. One correspondent to The Scotsman applied the adjectives “sad”, “sick”, “obscene” and “crude” but there were also correspondents defending the exhibition, including the painter Jon Schueler.

Complete list of artists in Strategy: Get Arts:
H. P. Alvermann, Bernd and Hilla Becher, Joseph Beuys, Claus Böhmler, George Brecht, Peter Brüning, Henning Christiansen, Friedhelm Döhl, Robert Filliou, Karl Gerstner, Gotthard Graubner, Erwin Heerich, Dorothy Iannone, Mauricio Kagel, Konrad Klapheck, Imi Knoebel, Christof Kohlhöfer, Ferdinand Kriwet, Adolf Luther, Heinz Mack, Lutz Mommartz, Tony Morgan, Blinky Palermo, Sigmar Polke, Erich Reusch, Gerhard Richter, Klaus Rinke, Dieter Rot, Reiner Ruthenbeck, Daniel Spoerri, André Thomkins, Günther Uecker, Franz Erhard Walther, Günter Weseler, Stefan Wewerka.

An archive exhibition examining the impact of Strategy: Get Arts will be held at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, 22 October 2005 - 8 January 2006. For further information click here.
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