The collection of Erich Marx is closely bound up with the history of the Hamburger Bahnhof. Following the comprehensive remodelling of the former train station and later railway museum by architect Josef Paul Kleihues and the construction of a large barrel-vaulted gallery to the east, the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart opened in 1996 with the Marx Collection. The core of the collection revolves around works by world-famous artists of the second half of the 20th century, such as Joseph Beuys, Anselm Kiefer, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly and Andy Warhol, from whom Erich Marx acquired high quality groups of works. From the 1980s onwards he added new pieces by contemporary artists.

The permanent exhibition of Joseph Beuys’ major works in the museum’s west wing currently extends into the Kleihueshalle. Marx’s most recent acquisition, the environment Das Kapital Raum 1970–1977, created by Beuys in 1980 for the Venice Biennale, is now on display permanently. Film documents showing important performances by the artist from 1968 to 1971 put the creative process into context. They show the radical outcome of his commitment to understand artistic production as ‘social practice’ that aims to overcome the alienation between mankind and environment.

The most important thing to me is that people, by virtue of their products, have experience of how they can contribute to the whole and not only produce articles but become a sculptor or architect of the whole social organism. The future social order will take its shape from compatibility with the theoretical principles of art.

(Joseph Beuys 1973)

As its title clearly indicates, the environment refers to Beuys’ interest in creating his own new concept of capital, which he developed in relation to Karl Marx. In the course of public discussions he held during documenta 5 and 6, Beuys developed in detail how he was no longer using the term to refer to economic ownership but rather to intellectual and creative property. Beuys therefore equates art, as an exemplary expression of creative power (art = creativity), with capital (art = capital). The 36 blackboards on the rear wall of the space bear witness to this discursive process, which took place in Kassel over the 100 days of documenta 6 in 1977. Some individual boards leaning against the wall date back to documenta 5. The instruments, everyday objects, dried gelatine, and boards distributed across the floor refer to two performances Beuys did in 1970: ‘Celtic (Kinloch Rannoch) Scottish Symphony’ in Edinburgh and ‘Celtic + ~~~~’ in Basel.

Beuys works on two levels, combining his rational work in the conceptual definition of terms with the more spiritual level evoked by the mysterious, undeciphered relics from his actions related to Celtic Christianity. In the opening sequence of the Basel performance, Beuys highlighted the Christian reference by washing the feet of seven visitors. In both actions, the piano is not played but creates anticipation for the possibility of music, a sound of the future. In the installation, Beuys also conveys this ‘empty’ state through the film equipment and tape recorders he put on display without rolls of film or tapes. Beuys called it a monument in which the movements are, so to speak, frozen and waiting for the viewer to revive them. The films that were shown during the 1970 performance are part of the current display of the Marx Collection.

The large, multifaceted environment was created by Beuys for the 1980 special exhibition ‘L’arte degli anni Settanta’ during the 39th Venice Biennale. In 1983, the installation featured in an exhibition in Zurich: ‘The Inclination for the Gesamtkunstwerk: European Utopias since 1800’. From 1984, the installation could be seen in its fourth version at what was thought to be the final place of exhibition in the Hallen für Neue Kunst in Schaffhausen (Switzerland). In 2014, the institution closed and ‘Das Kapital Raum 1970-1977’ was put up for sale. Art collector Erich Marx acquired the environment and gave it to the Nationalgalerie, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin on permanent loan.