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JOSEPH BEUYS (Germany, Krefeld 1921-1986 / act: Kleve and Düsseldorf)

Joseph Beuys BEUYS: Beuys was no ordinary artist. He was also a shaman, showman, teacher, and tireless debater. He initiated the 'performances' of the Fluxus Movement in 1962, founded the Animals' Political Party in 1966, and fomulated the German Green Party's political programme and its 1982 electoral campaign [see ALAIN BORER The Essential Beuys p. 27-8].

MYTH: The myth of Beuys begins with the Second World War when he was allegedly 're-born'. As a Luftwafe pilot, during the winter of 1943, his Stuka crashed on the Russian front in the Crimea, when nomadic Tartars discovered Beuys close to death in the snow, annointed his wounds with fat to regenerate warmth, wrapped his broken body protectively in felt to keep warmth in, and kept it alive with a diet of honey, curds and cheese. Returned from the dead, Beuys later made art from the detritus of daily life; particularly the materials and substances which had sustained him.

TEACHING: In the series of his solemn performances and lectures, Beuys spoke unto the people in parables. He informed them that "everybody is an artist", that "only art is capable of dismantling the repressive effects of a senile social system" or "only art [...] as creative self-determination and as a process that engenders creation, is able to liberate us and lead us towards an alternative society", and that "death is quite a complicated thing" [GUNTHERT Joseph Beuys, l'art politique ARTSTUDIO p.107]. When Beuys said "everybody is an artist" he was considering his students and listeners to be his equals. He was neither 'master' or 'unique', but a teacher repeating a repeatable lesson [ALAIN BORER The Essential Beuys p. 17]. Thus, Beuys in his capacity as Teacher introduces himself as one of us - the 'democrat' - but also as the one who embodies profound knowledge - the 'autocrat' - in order to lead us. His most celebrated statement, "everybody is an artist", acknowledges the creator in all people. Beuys was highly influential in shifting the emphasis from what an artist makes, to his personality, activities and opinions. This expanded concept of art was communicated through a series of performances and public discussions.

IDEAS: The vision of Beuys is concerned with the plight both of humanity and the environment. He expresses these concerns through a personal symbolism in which fat and felt play a central role. In opposition to the 'mímesis' of classical art, Beuys aims at 'méthexis'; the concrete expression of an idea or spirituality [ALAIN BORER The Essential Beuys p. 15]. Beuys' animals - like minerals and vegetables - are endowed with vital elementary forces. Not only is Beuys committed to learning from them - as survivors of civilization - a sureness of instinct and a sense of orientation, but, by displaying his bestiary (stag / hare / jackal etc.) and animality (fur / felt clothing), he develops his projects in their presence (dead or alive) or with their bodies (fat / blood) [ALAIN BORER The Essential Beuys p. 21]. Beuys invites us to see our fellow men in animals. Through our animalesque nature, it is not only the outside we should get to know, but - with his help - the animal inside.

WORK: Beuys was lucky to have gifted photographers to document his work. The photos around his work are astonishing. Some of his works, such as his blackboards covered in diagrams, result from the lectures he gave. Beuys provided evidence of the idea that in art everything is possible. Consequently, his work is multi-faceted. Some of his works span great periods; from conception to realization.

MATERIALS: Beuys worked with the everyday 'poor' materials that made up his famous stock-in-trade; felt, fat, dead animals, copper, sulphur, honey, blood, bones... all things that hitherto had been unworthy of art. For Beuys the 'raw' materials are not just exhibited for themselves as such, but rather as a process of transformation, supplying the necessary space for his teaching. In other words these materials provide matter for thought [ALAIN BORER The Essential Beuys p. 15]. Characteristic in the art of Beuys is the contrast between materials; particularly between fat and metal. Such materials allude to the contrasts of warm / cold, flexible / rigid. Furthermore, they recall the Venus / Mars split. Using such unstable materials as fat and felt, Beuys continues the promise of Speúsippos, according to whom "the Good and the Beautiful only appear in the nature of things during the development of beings".

THESIS: Beuys viewed nature as healing, and touched upon it as magic. Taking nature as such, he put it back into art. Nowadays, Joseph Beuys is acknowledged to be the most significant and influential artist of the second half of the twentieth century.

[Megakles 05/2001]

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