Boxing comes to the heart of Mayfair. You cannot imagine two very different worlds, but on stepping through the door of Waddington Custot in Cork Street, you leave behind white-painted gallery spaces and step into another more gritty world, enclosed and hidden from the street.
Ahead of you is a long horizontal vitrine ‘Boxkampf für die direkte Demokratie’ (Boxing Match for Direct Democracy), containing ropes from a boxing ring, boxing gloves and a protective mask. As you turn, there are photographs of two boxers attacking each other, along with letters and other archive material, while at the end of the space is a poster announcing the match and grainy archive film showing the boxing match in action.
This was not ordinary boxing match, but ‘farewell action’ at documenta 5, a boxing match between the German artist Joseph Beuys (1921–1986) and Abraham David Christian (b.1952), a Kassel art student.
Beuys was not only an artist, but a social activist, founding the German Student Party in 1967 after the shooting of a student during a demonstration about the visit of the Shah of Persia and other organisations such as the ‘Organisation of Non-Voters’ (1970), the ‘Organisation for Direct Democracy through Referendum’ (1971) and the ‘Committee for a Free University’ (1971), while also standing for the Green Party in European and federal parliamentary elections
documenta 5 followed on from four previous documenta held every few years and, from 30 June to 8 October 1972, Beuys established the ‘Office for The Organisation for Direct Democracy’, in which to debate topics of social reform indulging education, religion, race relations, women’s rights, atomic energy, economics and the Eastern bloc.
On the final day of documenta 5, Beuys staged, in front of a rowdy crowd, ‘Boxkampf für die direkte Demokratie’ with Abraham David Christian who had challenged Beuys to the fight and stood for ‘representative government’, while Beuys stood for ‘direct democracy’. The student Anatol Herzfeld acted as referee and after three rounds declared Beuys to be the winner “on points for direct democracy through direct hits”.
A fascinating piece of history on this event staged by one of Germany’s greatest 20th century artists.