Anyone remotely interested in art will be familiar with this quote attributed to Beuys. Marking 100th anniversary of Joseph Beuys’ birth, many museums throughout Europe have been celebrating artist’s life and legacy this year.
Photo by: Joseph Beuys, DAS ENDE DES 20, Richtkräfte einer neuen Gesellschaft. VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021
What was Beuys not? Portraying himself as a revolutionary, a shaman, a gangster, a gardener, even an animal – he collected creative roles as no other, being an artist of many virtues.Sculptor, thinker, professor, performance artist, theoretician, self-mythologizer, Beuys used felt, grease, wax, honey, and other seemingly mundane materials in his works and often featured animals in his live “actions” (what he called performances), which lasted anywhere from a few hours to a few days. Amongst most remarkable ones are spending three days locked as a shaman with a real coyote in a New York gallery and explaining paintings to a dead hare in a gallery in Düsseldorf.
Photo by: The secret block for a secret person in Ireland, 1945–1976. VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021
Photo by: Joseph Beuys, Unschlitt/Tallow, 1977. VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021
Photo by: Joseph Beuys, Strassenbahnhaltestelle. A Monument to the Future [2. Fassung], 1976. VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021
When visiting the exhibition, don’t miss the drawings cycle The Secret Block for a Secret Person in Ireland and the installation Das Kapital Raum 1970–1977.
The Secret Block for a Secret Person in Ireland consists of selected drawings from Beuys’ prolific output between 1936 and 1976 and refers to the close relationship between drawing, thought, and language. Beuys fundamentally viewed drawing as an extension of language, as “thought forms” that are to be understood as the basis of his artistic practice (we encourage you to doodle, as you read this).
In Das Kapital Raum 1970–1977, the 50 black slates hung on a wall are covered in formulas, written in chalk. Alongside, a piano with an axe leaning against it, a zinc tub beside a watering can, a ladder, grease, film projectors. With this installation, Joseph Beuys validated his thesis, which was still considered quite radical in the 1970s: “Capital actually lies in the creative power of every human being. Art against capitalism.” Ironically, collector Erich Marx and a visionary behind art at the Hamburger Bahnhof bought this work for a "not too modest two-digit million sum" and left it on permanent loan to the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, proving Beuys vision that creativity is the capital of the future.
Photo by: Joseph Beuys, 1980. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek, Sammlung Marzona / Richard Schulze-Vorberg
Photo by: Joseph Beuys in his apartment in Düsseldorf, 1981. Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Kunstbibliothek, Sammlung Marzona / Winfried Göllner
To this day, Joseph Beuys ranks amongst the most radical and influential artists to emerge during the second half of the 20th century. An enigmatic figure (always recognized wearing his felt hat) who was never the one to avoid controversy, Beuys strove to establish a truly democratic approach towards making and presenting art. He is often credited with contributing to the formation of the Fluxus movement in the 1960s, as well as 'social sculpture', both of which continue to inspire younger generations of artists today.
Beuys legacy is a part of a larger, philosophically based practice emphasizing direct democracy, free access to education, and the restructuring of society to meet ecological requirements. Giving people the space to merge art and life this was at the heart of his career.
Before going to visit the museum, we suggest drawing an inspiration from Beuys’ philosophy through books and film. Watch Beuys by Andres Veiel and read Beuys’ What is Money?and What is Art?.