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Died: 23rd January 1986
Joseph Beuys (May 12, 1921 – January 23, 1986) was a German artist who came to prominence in the 1960s. He is most famous for his ritualistic public performances and his energetic championing of the healing potential of art and the power of a universal human creativity. As well as performances, Beuys produced sculptures, environments, vitrines, 450 prints and posters, and thousands of drawings. He was also a committed teacher and increasingly devoted much of his energy to German politics. A charismatic and controversial figure, the nature and value of Beuys’s contribution to Western art has elicited a hotly contested and often polarised debate.
In 1962 Beuys befriended his Düsseldorf colleague Nam June Paik, a member of the Fluxus movement. This was the beginning of what was to be a brief formal involvement with Fluxus, a loose international group of artists who championed a radical erosion of the boundaries of art, bringing aspects of creative practice outside of the institution and into the everyday. Although Beuys participated in a number of Fluxus events, it soon became clear that he viewed the implications of art’s economic and institutional framework differently. Indeed, whereas Fluxus was directly inspired by the radical Dada activities emerging during the First World War, Beuys in 1964 broadcast (from Second German Television Studio) a rather different message: ‘Das Schweigen von Marcel Duchamp wird überbewertet’ (‘The Silence of Marcel Duchamp is Overrated’). Beuys’s relationship with the legacy of Duchamp and the Readymade is a central (if often unacknowledged) aspect of the controversy surrounding his practice.
What served to launch Beuys into the public consciousness was that which transpired following his performance at the Technical College Aachen in 1964. As part of a festival of new art coinciding with the 20th anniversary of an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler, Beuys created a performance or Aktion. The performance was interrupted by a group of students, one of whom attacked Beuys, punching him in the face. A photograph of the artist, nose bloodied and arm raised, was circulated in the media. It was for this 1964 festival that Beuys produced an idiosyncratic CV, which he titled Lebenslauf/Werklauf (Life Course/Work Course).
Beuys’s first solo exhibition in a private gallery was opened on November 26, 1965 with one of the artist’s most famous and compelling performances: How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare. The artist could be viewed through the glass of the gallery’s window. His face was covered in honey and gold leaf, an iron slab was attached to his boot. In his arms he cradled a dead hare, into whose ear he mumbled muffled noises as well as explanations of the drawings that lined the walls. Such materials and actions had specific symbolic value for Beuys. Beuys produced many such spectacular, ritualistic performances, and he developed a compelling persona whereby he took on a liminal, shamanistic role, as if to enable passage between different physical and spiritual states. Further examples of such performances include: EURASIA (1965), Celtic (Kinloch Rannoch) Scottish Symphony (1970), and I Like America and America Likes Me (1974).(read less)
Techniques & Media: Installation, Performance Art
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