The VW Transporter of Joseph Beuys
We all know that the VW Transporter is one of the most iconic of iconic vehicles. Quite what that means to us decadent 21st century-wallahs is one thing. What it meant to the post war generation of Germany is another.
Joseph Beuys had the terrifying-sounding job as a rear gunner on a Stuka divebomber stationed in the Crimea in 1944. Coming back from a mission, the Stuka crashed, killing the pilot.
According to various versions of the story, the future artist: a) was thrown out of the cockpit on impact and as rescued by native tarter tribesmen and nurtured back to health swaddled in felt and fed fat, cheese and milk or b) rescued by a German patrol and quickly sent to the western front to help beef up a threadbare paratrooper unit.
Either way, Beuys was honoured five times for being wounded in action in the final throes of the second world war.
His many and various near death experiences inspired the artist to create, in 1969 his camper van and sledge-based installation The Pack.
For Beuys, the sight of a VW transporter was a comforting swaddle. For many Germans it represented safety, reliability and a kind of portable, socially constructed contentment. The success of the People’s Van was indivisible from the reconstruction of Germany as a whole during the postwar years. For German artists, it’s understandable that these totems of utility and practicality have a lasting resonance.
Interesting too, that Bueys created the work in 1969, when the Transporter had been recuperated into an icon of the counterculture.
If you happen to be in the London area, The Pack is currently on display in the spectacular Tate Modern on South Bank.
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