JOSEPH BEUYS

b. 1921 Krefeld, Germany – d. 1986 Düsseldorf, Germany

 

Beuys crafted a charismatic artistic persona who blurred the lines between art and life, and fact and fiction. Widely regarded as one of the most influential artists of the second half of the 20th century, as a Conceptual artist, Beuys's diverse body of work ranges from Happenings and performances to sculpture, installations and graphic design. Reportedly involved in a plane crash in 1944 as a Luftwaffe pilot over the Crimean front, he created a myth of being saved by Tatar herdsmen which involved being wrapped in animal fat and felt to keep him alive. These materials became repeated iconography in his work. Deeply affected by the traumas of the Second World War, Beuys was a strong believer of the healing potential of art for humanity.

 

A professor at the Düsseldorf Academy of Fine Arts, where he himself trained, highly committed as a teacher, although firmly anti-establishment, he famously stated that "teaching is my greatest work of art". He met colleague Nam June Paik in 1962, and became involved with the Fluxus movement; an 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. His most large-scale work, 7,000 Oaks, consisted of the planting of trees with the help of many volunteers on his native German soil. A symbol of regeneration and the strength of nature, the piece endures and continually affects the surrounding urban cityscape of Kassel.

 

A major retrospective was held in 1979 at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, followed by retrospectives in 1993-94 at Kunsthaus Zurich, Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia, Madrid, and Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris.