Shusaku Arakawa: Portrait of Helen Keller or Joseph Beuys

Shusaku Arakawa, 1936-2010

Portrait of Helen Keller or Joseph Beuys


24″ x 31 3/4″




The grey swath of pigment in the upper righthand corner of this piece and the lines in the upper left, possibly part of a mug, echo many of the drawings of Joseph Beuys with their isolated lines and figures. The expanse of cream-colored paper gives the viewer space to focus on the active pigment. During this period, Arakawa had moved away from larger pieces towards smaller works that explored ideas and perception.

Shusaku Arakawa with his partner, and later wife, Madeline Gins, explored many philosophical propositions, worked to expand viewers understanding of what art is and moved between sculpture, works on paper, and architecture through their long careers.

During their exploration of space as a way to strengthen immunity and lengthen lifespan, they designed Reversible Destiny Lofts – Mitaka (In Memory of Helen Keller) as living spaces that challenge the inhabitants physically, exploring the idea that through those challenges, the immune system would strengthen to the extent that it might even extend human life.

Arakawa and Gins found inspiration in Helen Keller, an American woman born in the late 19th century who became deaf and blind in childhood. Keller was transformed by her access to American Sign Language, taught to her by her governess and companion, Annie Sullivan. Arakawa and Gins viewed her as a person who had reversed her destiny, experiencing life from a profoundly different perspective due to her deafness and blindness and, through the hard work and challenge of acquiring language, she was able to embrace and acquire extensive knowledge and experiences that might not have been available to her without it.

This is Rachel Deen, I am a grad student in the Arts Administration program at Baruch College in the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences. Thank you for listening!