A sumptuous room in the Museum of Fine Arts in Ghent in 1980: on its wall hang Flemish Old Master paintings, gleaming in their gilt frames; yet in the middle of the room stand industrial metal shelves, sparsely stocked with packets of everyday perishable products, salt, flour, olives and peas… Each packet is signed by Joseph Beuys and labeled with “1 economic value.” This was Beuys’ compelling installation Wirtschaftswerte (Economic Values), a declaration that culture had once and for all been reduced to economic property. The products Beuys selected were notably from the German Democratic Republic, heightening the disparity between West and East (both in his native Germany, at the time still divided, and beyond) among others contrasts: capitalism and socialism, high and low culture, culture and consumerism, the mundane and the luxurious. Das Wirtschaftswertprinzip / The Principle of Economic Value documents in detail the original installation, which Beuys later recreated in different locations and expanded in a series of multiples. Originally published in 1990, the book has now been re-designed by Klaus Staeck and Gerhard Steidl on the occasion of the hundred anniversary of Beuys’ birth in 2021.
Our culture is not shaped by culture; our culture is completely shaped by economic values. – Joseph Beuys