leonardo da vinci : joseph beuys.
the codex leicester. drawings.
a scarcely faded handwriting, woven of letters and figures that sometimes suggests hieroglyphics; an enigmatic texture that can be deciphered only with the help of a mirror; a science ushering in a new epoch, yet composed in an italian belonging to the waning middle ages; celestial secrets and worldly riddles, suffused with the idiom of tuscan farmers: the museum der dinge [museum of things] welcomes the new millennium with a scintillating treasure from the last one. it presents, protected under a soft twilight, the codex leicester of leonardo da vinci.
the manuscript is one of the most important written by leonardo to have been preserved. on 18 folio sheets, folded into 72 pages and covered in tightly composed mirror-handwriting and illustrated with many drawings, leonardo recorded haphazardly between 1506 and 1510 a wealth of observations of nature, technical sketches, inventions, speculations and thought experiments. they portray the body of the earth as a living organism; the main topic is the nature of water. leonardo carried the sheets with him in a notebook bound in leather. we can watch as leonardo ponders over light and shadow, ebb and flow, the light of the moon, primeval and apocalyptic phenomena.
leonardo's manuscript is like an outwardly expanding circle of waves, created by a virtually tireless matrix: an unrelenting drive to transform, translating institutions, ideas, and visions into texts, prophecies, drawings, technical designs and apocalyptic nightmares, whereby all these spheres converge and commingle; the sciences and arts reciprocally infuse, fertilize, unsettle each another.
here drawings and words exchange their functions: the drawings explain contexts and connections, the texts overflow with poetic images. we experience how leonardo delves into the depths of the universe - and when we lean forward to within centimeters of the manuscript, we discover in the middle of this universe a minute hole that the artist-engineer punched into the paper with the tip of a drafting compass five hundred years ago.
the extraordinary event of confronting leonardo's work in the original is complemented by a richly varied body of commentary: a 12-meter high waterfall that rushes upward; many interactive models provide graphic demonstrations of the ways of water; and sixteen computers invite the visitor to explore leonardo's intellectual world.
an archival error in the records of the national library of spain consigned another of leonardo's manuscripts to oblivion for hundreds of years. when the codices madrid was rediscovered in 1965 and published in 1974, it was not only a world-wide event; engaging with this find led to a series of drawings that joseph beuys published in 1975 as a multiple, bound in a school notebook. the museum der dinge presents the 96 pages in the vicinity of the codex leicester and thereby traces an arc from the renaissance up to the present. when joseph beuys was producing the drawings to the codices madrid, he had already spent a quarter of a century with leonardo's work. he was fascinated most of all by the productive interplay in leonardo between scientific analysis, speculative thought and artistic praxis. the integration of these spheres enjoyed an efflorescence during the renaissance that, however, soon withered under the hegemony of the natural sciences. beuys' drawings present themselves as notes, sketches, ideas, and plans for experiments that strive to regain for the present the unity of science and art, nature and spirituality that was lost following leonardo's epoch.
the juxtaposition of these two artists may at first glance elicit surprise. the convergences and divergences between them are made manifest by the exhibition, through quotations, commentary and acoustic-theatrical means, without encroaching upon the singular presence of the works. beuys' positions may offer insights and impulses towards seeing leonardo in a new light, within an expanded horizon. the museum der dinge, committed to the idea of transdisciplinarity underlying its interdisciplinary program, is fortunate to have the opportunity to understand better its own intentions through the engaged encounter with these two artists.
for this exhibition, the codex leicester was loaned to the museum der dinge by melinda and bill gates, as were the drawings from the codices madrid by the dia center for the arts, new york. the project was developed in cooperation with the haus der kunst [house of art], munich, and was made possible through the generous support of debis and microsoft.