The fact that Beuys doesn’t make it easy for the viewer was part of his artistic intent. He wanted to present a conceptual challenge, and thus to contribute to a “broadening of consciousness” with regard to social life, human development, nature, and an existence which defies purely rational thought.
Thematically, the “Mountain King” is one of a series of works in which Beuys processed references to folk myths. In the sagas, mountain kings are often rulers of past times who live on inside mountains and can return from there in times of distress. This sculpture is thus a symbol of archaic myths which live on in hidden realms. At the same time, however, it also represents a human figure. The separation of the head from the body is a symbol of the figure’s sublimity – for Beuys the mountain king was also the model of a human being who has attained a higher state of awareness. “The cave aspect in which the legends and folklore of the mountains have their origins” (Beuys) thus leads to the inner realm of the human being. “I am interested in the psychological embedded in the physiological,” Beuys himself said about this work. We can take that as a clue – Beuys’s works can never be understood as simple symbols or vehicles of meaning. Rather, they trigger thoughts every viewer may pursue in his own way.
© VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2018
Photo: Städel Museum – U. Edelmann – ARTOTHEK