Joseph BEUYS | Ja, ja, ja, ja, ja, nee, nee, nee, nee, nee [Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, no, no, no, no, no]

Joseph BEUYS
Germany 1921 – 1986

Ja, ja, ja, ja, ja, nee, nee, nee, nee, nee
[Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, no, no, no, no, no]
felt, 32 minute audiotape
no. 45 from an edition of 100
Signed and editioned by blind-stamp on audio tape reel "Joseph Beuys 45/100"
overall 15.0 (h) x 25.0 (w) x 25.0 (d) cm
Gift of Dr K. David G. Edwards (Ret.), from the David and Margery Edwards New York Art Collection, 2005
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra
NGA 2005.428.A-T
© Joseph Beuys. Licensed by Bild-Kunst & VISCOPY, Australia


‘If you have all of my multiples, then you have me entirely.’[1] A multiple is an art object, usually three-dimensional, issued in edition. From 1965 this art form became an intrinsic part of Beuys’s practice. For the German sculptor, performance artist, teacher, activist and self-styled shaman, multiples are the physical vehicle of his ideas; they mark his opposition to easel painting and traditional sculpture, allowing the distribution of his work to an audience beyond the gallery or art museum. Sometimes Beuys’s multiples are relics from a performance or action; in other cases they are elaborately planned objects with complex geneses in earlier works.[2] The idea of mass is important: the object talks, travels the world, and stands in for the artist’s presence.[3]

Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, no, no, no, no, no (Ja, ja, ja, ja, ja, nee, nee, nee, nee, nee) comprises a stack of felt squares hollowed at centre to house a magnetic tape recording on a reel-to-reel player. Closed, the object is reminiscent of Beuys’s larger sculptures, where felt is juxtaposed with sheets of copper or iron, suggesting energy stored, transmitted or received.[4] The artist’s use of felt is usually traced to the wartime story of his aeroplane crash in the Crimea.[5] Typically a combination of matted, compressed animal fur and wool, cotton or other fabrics, felt’s insulating properties are remarkable.[6] As well as being a protective covering, felt is extremely absorbent, and very effectively soaks up liquids or muffles sounds. When opened, Yes, Yes … No, No … recalls a‘book safe’ where pages are cut out to hide an item―whether firearm, illicit substance or banned text―prompting questions of the contents: is this tape, and the voices recorded on it, being protected, concealed or censored?[7] The soundtrack is mantra-like, monotonous and obsessive.[8]Beuys brings together repetition of sound, materials and objects: the chanted words, the layered felt squares and this multiple (which is one of 100).

Lucina Ward
International Painting and Sculpture
National Gallery of Australia, Canberra


[1] Joseph Beuys, quoted in Peter Nisbet, ‘In/Tuition: a university museum collects Joseph Beuys’, in Jörg Schellmann, Joseph Beuys, the multiples, Cambridge, Busch–Reisinger Museum, Harvard University Art Museums, Minneapolis, Walker Art Center, Edition Schellmann, Munich and New York, 1997, p 520

[2] As Dierk Stemmler points out, they ‘adopt, abbreviate, recombine, vary, reinterpret ideas, images, concepts, and acoustic material’. ‘On the multiples of Jospeh Beuys’, in Schellmann 1997, p 509

[3] Joan Rothfuss, ‘Circulation time’, in Schellmann 1997, p 522

[4] See, for examples, Fond III 1969, Fond IV1979 and the architectural-scale Fond VII/21967/84 (Centre Pompidou, Paris, Musée d’art moderne)

[5] To heal and warm his body, his Tartar rescuers rubbed him with fat and wrapped him in felt

[6] One of Beuys’s best known multiples, Felt suit 1970, was conceived as a human warmth sculpture, making reference to the animal origins of clothes in the form of pelts

[7] An inherent contradiction is set up: museological considerations counsel caution over the playing of the tape, so we are dependent on published documentation and unable to let the work ‘speak for itself’

[8] The soundtrack, described as imitation ‘granny gossip’, was recorded at the Staatliche Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf, in December 1968, co-narrated with Beuys’s long-time supporters Christian and Johannes Stüttgen. Ja, Ja, Ja, Ja, Ja, Nee, Nee, Nee, Nee, Neewaspublished by Gabriele Mazzotta Editore, Milan, and a second version of this work was issued in 1970 with a PRM record within a printed sleeve