Joseph Beuys


Joseph Heinrich Beuys († January 23, 1986 in Düsseldorf) was a German action artist, sculptor, medalist, draftsman, art theorist and professor at the Düsseldorf Art Academy.

In his extensive work, Beuys dealt with questions of humanism, social philosophy and anthroposophy. This led to his specific definition of an “expanded concept of art” and to the conception of social sculpture as a total work of art, calling for creative participation in society and politics in the late 1970s. He is regarded worldwide as one of the most important action artists of the 20th century and, according to his biographer Reinhard Ermen, is to be seen as Andy Warhol”s “ideal-typical counterpart”.

Childhood and youth (1921-1941)

Joseph Beuys, who grew up in Rindern, a small village north of the Neuer Tiergarten in Kleve, was born the son of the merchant and fertilizer dealer Josef Jakob Beuys († May 15, 1958 in Kleve) and his wife Johanna Maria Margarete Beuys († August 30, 1974 ibid.). The father, who came from a family of millers and flour merchants from Geldern, had moved from Geldern to Krefeld in 1910 as a merchant”s assistant, where the parents lived at Alexanderplatz 5 after their marriage. In the fall of 1921, the family moved to Kleve and initially registered at the address Kermisdahlstraße 24, in the immediate vicinity of the Schwanenburg. After two further moves, they moved into the upper floor of the house at Tiergartenstraße 187, with a registration date of May 1.

From 1927 to 1932 Joseph Beuys attended the Catholic elementary school, then the Cleve State High School, now the Freiherr-vom-Stein High School. He learned to play the piano and cello; at school he showed talent in drawing lessons. Outside of school, he visited the studio of the Flemish painter and sculptor Achilles Moortgat, who lived in Cleve, several times, and who introduced him to the work of Constantin Meunier and George Minne. Beuys was also impressed by the works of Edvard Munch, William Turner and Auguste Rodin. The student”s interests, awakened by a teacher, were in Nordic history and mythology. He also developed an interest in science and technology and at times entertained the idea of becoming a pediatrician. During the book burning organized by the National Socialists in Kleve on May 19, 1933, in the courtyard of the Gymnasium, he had, according to his own statement, the book Systema Naturae by Carl von Linné “out of this big burning pile.

In 1936 at the latest, the 15-year-old Beuys”s membership in the Hitler Youth is documented, when he was placed in the HJ-Bann 238

Wartime (1941-1945)

In the spring of 1941, Beuys volunteered for the Luftwaffe, enlisting for twelve years. From May 1, 1941, he was trained as an airborne radio operator in Posen by Heinz Sielmann, who later became a wildlife and documentary filmmaker. Sielmann encouraged his recruit”s interest in botany and zoology. Beuys attended lectures in these subjects and geography at the Imperial University of Posen for seven months as a guest student.

After completing his training as a radio operator, he was stationed in the Crimea and took part in the air campaign around the fortress city of Sevastopol in June 1942. From May 1943, Beuys was by then a sergeant, and he was deployed to Königgrätz in what was then the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia as a gunner and radio operator in a Ju 87 dive bomber (Stuka). After transferring to Luftwaffe Staff Croatia in the summer of 1943, he was stationed in the eastern Adriatic until about 1944. From there he occasionally flew to the airbase at Foggia for weapons testing. Numerous sketches and drawings from wartime were made here.

On March 4, 1944, the Red Army began its spring offensive on the Eastern Front, forcing the complete withdrawal of German units from Ukraine in the Battle of Crimea. During a mission in which snowfall caused poor visibility, Beuys” Stuka made blind contact with the ground 200 meters east of Freifeld on March 16, 1944, and crashed to the ground. The pilot, Hans Laurinck, died, and Beuys was injured. He suffered a nasal bone fracture, several broken bones, and crash trauma. He was found by a German search party among the wreckage of the Ju 87 and on March 17, 1944, was taken to the mobile military hospital 179 at Kurman-Kemeltschi, which he was not able to leave until April 7, 1944.

The crash and its aftermath served Beuys as the stuff of a legend, according to which nomadic Crimean Tatars had nursed him “sacrificially for eight days with their home remedies” (anointing wounds with animal fat and keeping them warm in felt). This legend, which was supposed to explain Beuys” preference for the materials fat and felt and which Beuys also described in a BBC interview, was also held by his biographer Heiner Stachelhaus until the end. According to research by the artist Jörg Herold, Beuys was found by a search party soon after the crash, as the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reported about Herold”s search for clues in the Crimea in a report of August 7, 2000. The eight- to twelve-day stay with the Tatars, as reported by Stachelhaus and others, was already called into doubt by Beuys” own wife Eva in 1996. The widow classified the story repeatedly told by her husband as “fever dreams in long unconsciousness”.

In August 1944, Beuys was sent to the Western Front, where he served as a Oberjäger in the Erdmann Parachute Division. He was awarded the Wounded Man”s Badge. One day after the unconditional surrender of the Wehrmacht on May 8, 1945, Beuys became a British prisoner of war in Cuxhaven and was sent to a camp, which he was allowed to leave on August 5, 1945. Physically severely injured, he returned to his parents in Neu-Rindern near Kleve.

Study and awakening (1945-1960)

In 1945 he joined the artists” group of the Kleve-based painter Hanns Lamers. In 1946, at the age of 25, he became a member of the “Klever Künstlerbund” (formerly “Profil”), newly founded by Lamers and Walther Brüx. From 1948 to 1950 Beuys participated three times with drawings and watercolors in the group exhibitions of the association, which took place in the former studio house of Barend Cornelis Koekkoek, today the B.C. Koekkoek House.

Beuys enrolled at the State Academy of Art in Düsseldorf for the summer semester of 1946. He began studying monumental sculpture on April 1, 1946. During his first semester with Joseph Enseling, with whom he studied for three semesters, he met Erwin Heerich, Holger Runge and Elmar Hillebrand. From the winter semester of 1947

Ewald Mataré appointed Joseph Beuys as his master student in 1951. Together with Erwin Heerich, Beuys moved into his master student studio under the roof of the art academy until 1954.

He worked on commissions from his teacher Mataré, for example on the doors for the south portal of Cologne Cathedral, the so-called “Pentecost Door”, where he set the mosaic, and on the west window in the west work of Aachen Cathedral. It was also during this period that he created – presumably as a commission from Mataré – his early sculpture Torso, a female torso floating on an extended sculptor”s trestle, covered in black oil paint and gauze bandages. Beuys worked with Heerich on a copy of Käthe Kollwitz”s sculpture Mourning Parents in shell limestone. Mataré, who received this commission for a memorial in Alt St. Alban in 1953, passed it on to his two master students, with Heerich making the mother and Beuys the father.

A central theme in Mataré”s class was the discussion of Rudolf Steiner. Thus, according to the recollection of a fellow student, seven of the initial nine students were enthusiastic about Steiner”s anthroposophy. Steiner”s writing Kernpunkte der sozialen Frage was to prove a formative influence on Beuys; for him it became a key text for his later ideas on social sculpture. Mataré himself was oriented toward the old Bauhütten ideals and thought nothing of Steiner”s teachings. According to Günter Grass, who studied parallel to Beuys with Otto Pankok, the student Beuys had a dominant position in Mataré”s class, where, under Beuys”s influence, “things were Christian to anthroposophical.” Sixty years later, Grass described the mood among the students at the academy as follows: “Everywhere, geniuses seemed to be on the rise”; for Grass, these “geniuses” were mostly epigones.

While still a master student, Beuys” first solo exhibition took place in 1953 at the house of the brothers Hans and Franz Joseph van der Grinten in Kranenburg (Lower Rhine) and an exhibition at the Von der Heydt Museum in Wuppertal. He finished his studies after the winter semester 1952

Beuys, who found himself in a phase of upheaval in his artistic work as a “reaction to the circle of friends” lack of willingness to communicate in making sure of his own concerns,” withdrew increasingly from 1955 after his fiancée had returned his engagement ring to him at Christmas 1954; he suffered from melancholy and listlessness. In 1957 he stayed for a few months on the farm of the van der Grinten family in Kranenburg. In addition to working in the fields, which lasted from April to August, he drew and sketched concepts for sculptures. With the van der Grinten brothers he had intensive conversations about Konrad Lorenz, whom he 1954

At the end of 1957 Beuys moved to Kleve because his father was in the hospital there; he died on May 15 of the following year. Beuys rented his own studio space in the old Kurhaus am Tiergarten, where in 1959 he created the monumental oak cross and the gate for the Büderich Memorial to the Dead of the World Wars in the Old Church Tower in Meerbusch-Büderich. It is the largest public commission that Joseph Beuys executed at that time, against Ewald Mataré”s objections. On May 16, 1959, the “Büderich Memorial” was handed over. In the same year Beuys began to draw in four stapled account books, each three hundred pages thick (until 1965). In 1958 he used for the first time the materials grease and felt, which were unusual for art. Parallel to his artistic work, Beuys continued to pursue studies in the natural sciences, especially zoology.

On September 19, 1959, Joseph Beuys married Eva-Maria Wurmbach, whom he had met a year earlier, in the double church of Schwarzrheindorf. The daughter of the zoologist Hermann Wurmbach and his wife Maria Wurmbach (née Küchenhoff) studied art education at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. The marriage produced two children, Boien Wenzel, born on December 22, 1961, and Jessyka, born on November 10, 1964. He developed a close working and trusting relationship with his private secretary Heiner Bastian from 1968.

University and the public (1960-1975)

In March 1961, Joseph Beuys moved to Düsseldorf-Oberkassel, retaining his Kleve studio at the Tiergarten, and moved into a studio arranged by Gotthard Graubner in the house of Georg Pehle, son of the sculptor Albert Pehle and nephew of Walter Ophey, at Drakeplatz 4 in Oberkassel, where he lived and worked until his death. In 1980 he moved into a residential building at Wildenbruchstrasse 74, which had been moved to the rear, with access via a lattice gate and a front courtyard and an adjacent former garage building, which he used as a second studio until his death in 1986.

In 1950, Beuys had executed a standing gravestone, a slate slab in the shape of a large bird, for Ophey and his son Ulrich Nikolaus, who died prematurely, based on a design by Ewald Mataré. The present grave slab, which in its original state in 1950 still bore a cross in the lower part, was supplemented by 1978 with the names of Ophey”s wife Bernhardine Bornemann (1879-1968) and Georg and Luise Pehle. It is located in the Heerdt cemetery, as is a grave cross from 1970 created for the late Karl Wiedehage, former chief physician at the Dominikus Hospital in Düsseldorf-Heerdt. Wiedehage had had to remove one of Beuys” kidneys in the early 1960s after he fell while cleaning the stovepipe in his Kleve studio, which Beuys used until 1964, and fell with his back on the edge of the coal furnace.

Beuys had already sought a professorship at the Düsseldorf Art Academy in 1958, which met with resistance from his teacher Mataré. Three years later, in 1961, he was appointed by unanimous decision of the Academy College to the “Chair of Monumental Sculpture at the State Academy of Art in Düsseldorf” as successor to Josef (Sepp) Mages, who had held the post at the Academy since 1938, a position he took up on November 1, 1961. He was regarded as a reliable, rather strict teacher who soon made a name for himself with sensational actions that had nothing to do with classical sculpture. In February 1963, for example, he staged the FESTUM FLUXORUM FLUXUS, scheduled for two Fluxus evenings, in the Aula of the Academy, where he carried out his first actions.

Joseph Beuys had already inwardly said goodbye to the conventional artistic interpretation of this field of teaching for some time. The memorial of Büderich from 1959 was the conclusion of his conventional sculptural phase. Behind his expanded approach to art, which became increasingly apparent in the years that followed, was the search for a comprehensive concept of art for all people. With his development of a social “expanded concept of art,” Beuys attempted to change the structure of the common concepts of education, law, and economics.

In the years up to 1975, Beuys not only supervised an unusually large number of students, he also managed to successfully prepare a large number of very different artistic personalities for their own artistic practice. These included not only the “border crossers” between performance and installation, such as Felix Droese and Katharina Sieverding, but also a number of high-profile painters, including Jörg Immendorff, Axel Kasseböhmer, and Blinky Palermo. His youngest student was Elias Maria Reti, who studied art in his class at the Düsseldorf Art Academy at the age of 15.

Joseph Beuys was present at the academy almost daily, even on Saturdays and during semester breaks. Starting in 1966, he regularly organized so-called Ring Talks with his students, initiated by Anatol Herzfeld, in which theories were drafted and discussed in a fortnightly rhythm. These talks were public and took place until Beuys” termination without notice (see below) by his employer, the Ministry of Science, in 1972. The turn to theory was initially quite controversial among the students of the first generation. He took part in the students” exhibitions, the annual tours at the end of the winter semester in February.

Beuys also believed that anyone with a desire to study art should not be prevented from doing so by admissions procedures, such as a portfolio process (the applicant had to present proof of his or her talent in the form of papers) or a numerus clausus. He informed his colleagues that he would accept all applicants for a place in his class who had been rejected by other teachers. In mid-July 1971, 142 of 232 applicants for a teaching degree were rejected in the normal admission procedure. On August 5, 1971, Beuys read to the press a public letter he had sent to the academy director on August 2. All 142 rejected students had been accepted by Beuys into his class; he had about 400 students the following semester. On August 6, the Ministry of Science explained to the press that it did not approve this admission of the applicants and offered the applicants to study at another academy.

On October 15, 1971, Beuys and seventeen students from his group occupied the Academy”s secretariat. In a conversation with the Minister of Science, Johannes Rau, he managed to get the Academy of Art to accept these applicants with the recommendation of the Ministry of Science. On October 21, the Ministry of Science informed Beuys in writing that such situations would no longer be tolerated, but Beuys did not take this warning seriously.

At the end of January 1972, a conference on a new admission procedure was held at the Art Academy, attended by Beuys himself. The size of a class was limited to 30 students. In the summer, 227 applicants were admitted, 125 rejected. 1052 students were enrolled at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, 268 of them in Beuys” class.

When Beuys again occupied the secretariat of the Düsseldorf Art Academy with rejected students in 1972, Minister Rau dismissed him without notice. Escorted by police officers, Beuys had to leave the academy together with his students. Johannes Rau gave a press conference on the Beuys case on October 11, 1972, calling the dismissal “the last link in a chain of constant confrontations.” In the days that followed, students at the academy reacted with hunger strikes, a three-day boycott of lectures, signature campaigns, banners (“1000 Raus do not replace a Beuys”) and information walls about the events. Numerous protest letters and telegrams from all over the world reached the Ministry of Science. The response on radio, television and in the press was great. In an open letter, fellow artists, among them the writers Heinrich Böll, Peter Handke, Uwe Johnson, Martin Walser, as well as the artists Jim Dine, David Hockney, Gerhard Richter and Günther Uecker, demanded the reinstatement of one of the most important artists of post-war Germany. On October 20, 1973, about a year after his release, Beuys crossed the Rhine in a dugout canoe built by his master student Anatol Herzfeld from the banks of the Oberkassel district to the opposite bank, where the Kunstakademie is located. This “bringing Joseph Beuys home” as a spectacular symbolic act aroused great public interest. In the winter semester of 1974, Beuys received a guest professorship at the Hochschule für bildende Künste in Hamburg.

Beuys initiated a legal battle that lasted for years with a lawsuit against the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. In 1980, a settlement was reached before the Federal Labor Court in Kassel: Beuys was allowed to keep his studio in “Raum 3” in the academy until he reached the age of 65 and to continue to use the title of professor, in return for which he accepted the termination of his employment relationship. On November 1, 1980, Beuys opened the office of the Free International University (FIU) in his “Raum 3″ studio. It was dissolved after Beuys” death.

Documenta and commercial success

After Beuys had participated in documenta III in Kassel in 1964, at which he was regularly represented with his works from then on, solo presentations and his increasing presence in public followed. With the action how to explain the pictures to the dead rabbit Joseph Beuys opened in November 1965 in the gallery Schmela, Düsseldorf, directed by Alfred Schmela, the solo exhibition “…irgend ein Strang …”, his first exhibition in a commercial gallery. The Municipal Museum in Mönchengladbach showed the first comprehensive exhibition BEUYS from September to October 1967. By contractual agreement, the exhibited works became the property of the collector Karl Ströher, under the condition that the essential part of the work “will be preserved closed and made accessible to the public.” During one of the “tours” in February 1969 at the Düsseldorf Art Academy, Beuys exhibited his own work Revolutionary Piano, an instrument covered with about 200 red carnations and red roses. From July to August 1969, the Kupferstichkabinett of the Kunstmuseum Basel showed the exhibition Joseph Beuys Zeichnungen, kleine Objekte.

His gallerist René Block achieved a decisive breakthrough on the art market at the Cologne art market in 1969: for the Beuys installation The pack (the sum was equivalent to that paid at the time for a large painting by Robert Rauschenberg.

On the occasion of the opening of an exhibition by André Masson at the Museum am Ostwall in Dortmund, a conversation took place between Joseph Beuys and Willy Brandt in April 1970. Beuys suggested making television available to artists at least once a month as a forum for discussion, so that the general public could become acquainted with the ideas of the true opposition. The point was that this opposition would get effective opportunities to be able to specify their sociopolitical ideas, because, according to the artist, they had “no other level of information than the street,” and therefore he asked, not for himself, “for a corresponding liberation of the media.” Brandt made sense of this, but said he could not advocate that art “by virtue of a political office somehow become A two-day working conference between Joseph Beuys, Erwin Heerich and Klaus Staeck took place in Heidelberg in September 1971. The aim was to work out a concept for the organization of an “international free art market”. As a result, a “2nd international meeting free art market” took place in October 1971 in the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf.

For documenta 5 in 1972, Beuys” work Dürer, ich führen persönlich Baader + Meinhof (Dürer, I personally guide Baader + Meinhof through Documenta V) was created under the aspect of an artistic contemplation of the incipient terror of the Baader-Meinhof group. In June 1972, on the opening day of the exhibition Arena, in which Beuys arranged 264 photographic documents of his autobiographical impact in the form of an arena, the action Vitex Agnus Castus took place at Lucio Amelio”s Modern Art Agency in Naples. The exhibition was reissued a few months later under the title Arena – dove sarei arrivato se fossi stato intelligente! (German: Arena – where would I have arrived if I had been intelligent!) at the Galleria l”Attico in Rome, where the artist performed the spontaneous action Anacharsis Cloots. It was named after the personality Anacharsis Cloots, whom he revered and used as his alter ego, who spent his youth at Gnadenthal Castle and later called himself “orator of the human race.” During the action, Beuys, who at times called himself “Josephanacharsis Clootsbeuys” in identification with Cloots, recited excerpts from a biography of this 18th-century revolutionary, who died under the guillotine in France in 1794, published in 1865 and depicted by Carl Richter.

International presence and awards (1975-1986)

In January 1974, Beuys traveled to the United States for the first time. The gallery owner Ronald Feldman, New York, had organized a ten-day lecture tour for him through the United States under the title Energy Plan for the Western Man. Before numerous audiences in the art colleges of New York, Chicago and Minneapolis, he spoke, among other things, about the “whole question of the possibility that everyone should now make his own special kind of art, his own work, for the new social organization.”

At the 37th Venice Biennale in 1976, Beuys was present with the installation Tram Stop

In May 1979 he met in the gallery Denise René

On April 1, 1980, Beuys and Warhol met at the Lucio Amelio Gallery in Naples, where Andy Warhol showed his new silkscreen portraits titled Joseph Beuys in the exhibition Joseph Beuys by Andy Warhol. In April 1981, Beuys stayed in Rome to produce the action sculpture Terremoto at Palazzo Braschi. In the same month, another work, Terremoto in Palazzo, was produced in Italy on the occasion of an exhibition in Naples in aid of the victims of the devastating earthquake in Naples on November 23, 1980; in 1983, the artist produced a multiple under the same title as a color offset series.

In August 1981 he traveled with his family in a camper through Poland to visit those places he had already known as a young soldier. In Łódź, he donated 800 of his drawings, graphics, posters, texts and manifestos to the Muzeum Sztuki. From October to December 1981, the first Beuys exhibition took place in the GDR. Multiples from the Günter Ulbricht Collection, Düsseldorf, were shown in the Permanent Representation of the Federal Republic of Germany in East Berlin.

At documenta 7 in Kassel in 1982, Beuys put his sculpture Stadtverwaldung statt Stadtverwaltung (7000 oak trees) into practice. Beuys did not live to see the end of the elaborate planting campaign. By the time of his death, only 5500 oaks, each accompanied by a basalt stele, had been planted. The last tree was planted by his son Wenzel during documenta 8 on June 12, 1987. The tree-stone pairs are still present in the cityscape today.

Beuys had the idea of organizing a permanent conference on questions of humanity with the Dalai Lama and to start a cooperation with him. On October 27, 1982, they met for a discussion in Bonn. This meeting was organized by Louwrien Wijers from the Netherlands, who thought that Beuys” vision of turning politics into art should interest the Dalai Lama. The conversation, which lasted an hour, has not been published or recorded. All that has survived is that Joseph Beuys spoke almost exclusively. He had presented his vision of a “worldwide social sculpture” to the Dalai Lama. In addition, he planned to present an economic plan for Tibet to the Chinese, who had occupied Tibet in 1949.

In the fall of 1982, Beuys exhibited an important ensemble of works entitled “Deer Monuments” at the Zeitgeist exhibition in the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin; its components were incorporated into the environment Blitzschlag mit Lichtschein auf Hirsch, which was acquired by the city of Frankfurt am Main in 1987 and is now in the Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK). In the spring of 1983, the Hamburg Department of Culture commissioned the artist to plan the flushing fields in Altenwerder, which today serve as a container terminal. Beuys developed a planting concept; the project Gesamtkunstwerk Freie und Hansestadt Hamburg was finally rejected by the Senate of the City of Hamburg in July 1984.

Late years and death

The city of Bolognano named Joseph Beuys an honorary citizen in May 1984, after he planted the first 400 of 7000 trees and shrubs for the creation of a nature reserve in the municipality between May 11 and 14. In the same year, two exhibitions were opened in Tokyo, prepared by the artist himself, who by then was in serious health problems. One took place at the Watari Gallery from May 15 to July 17, 1984: Joseph Beuys & Nam June Paik; the other, with works from the Ulbricht Collection, followed at the Seibu Museum from June 2 to July 2, 1984. Beuys participated with the installation Wirtschaftswerte, 1980, in the exhibition von hier aus – Zwei Monate neue deutsche Kunst in Düsseldorf, which ran from September to December 1984.

On January 12, 1985, Beuys, together with Andy Warhol and the Japanese artist Kaii Higashiyama, participated in the “Global-Art-Fusion” project. This was an intercontinental FAX-ART project initiated by the conceptual artist Ueli Fuchser, in which a fax with drawings by all three participating artists was sent around the world within 32 minutes – from Düsseldorf via New York to Tokyo, received at the Palais-Liechtenstein in Vienna. This fax was intended as a sign of peace during the Cold War. At the end of May 1985, Joseph Beuys fell ill with interstitial pneumonia. During a convalescent stay in Naples and on Capri in September 1985, he created the sculpture Scala Libera, 1985, as well as a prototype of the Capri Battery. Shortly before his death, the artist gave a keynote speech at the Munich Kammerspiele on November 20, 1985, entitled “Speaking about one”s own country: Germany.” In it, he once again addressed his theory that “every human being is an artist.” The last installation Joseph Beuys set up, Palazzo Regale, was shown at the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples from December 1985 to May 1986. In January 1986 he was awarded the prestigious Wilhelm Lehmbruck Prize of the city of Duisburg. Eleven days later, on January 23, Joseph Beuys died of heart failure at the age of 64 in his studio at Drakeplatz 4 in Düsseldorf-Oberkassel after an inflammation of the lung tissue. He was buried at sea on April 14, 1986. The German motor ship Sueño (German: “Dream”) with home port Meldorf sailed at position 54° 7′ 5″ N, 8° 22′ 0″ E54.11805555568.36666666667, where his ashes were consigned to the North Sea.

His daily presence at the academy, his eagerness to provide information to the press, radio, and television, and the ruthlessness with which Beuys seemed to present himself in his art actions, to the point of health exhaustion, shaped the image of the artist as a person.

At the academies in the 1960s, it was by no means common for the teacher to be available to the students on a daily basis and to seek to combine his or her own artistic work with the students” education; this remained the exception later on as well. Exhibitions usually found little resonance in the daily press; contemporary art had its specialist circles and its limited gallery audience. Catalogs did not show photographs of the artists. The art actions of the 1960s allowed the press and television to take interesting pictures in black and white for the first time; the actions of Joseph Beuys, in their forms that were considered unusual to the point of annoyance at the time, gave reason to put the artist”s person in the picture. After the spectacular Rhine crossing in 1973, the artist”s clothing, which in itself caused little sensation and consisted of jeans, a white shirt with a fisherman”s vest and a felt hat, had become a trademark that Beuys continued to use not only for the medial dissemination of his ideas, but after 1980 also for his appearance on the political stage.

The artist”s work, which was difficult to depict, was replaced by the image of the “man in the fedora”. The polarizing effect of the works transferred to the perception of the person. Critics spoke disparagingly of a “charlatan” or “shaman,” enthusiastic followers considered him a “Leonardo da Vinci of the present.” The abundance of statements that Beuys conveyed to the public also gave ample cause for attributions of his person. For his reflections, for example, on a central motif of art, death, he was called a “pain man of art.

The extensive oeuvre of Joseph Beuys essentially comprises four areas: material works in the traditional artistic sense (paintings and drawings, objects and installations), the actions, the art theory with teaching activities, and his social-political activities.

Curriculum Vitae Worksheet

Beginning in 1961, Beuys began to create a kind of “poetry and truth” of his artist”s vita in literary-artistic form with his curriculum vitae, in which he incorporated, among other things, experiences and memories of his childhood, youth, and time as a soldier. This self-portrayal was also conceived as a contrast to the artists” biographies expected by galleries and museums. Beuys thus turned his biography itself into a work of art and “drew” a parallel between his life and his art.

Drawings and scores

The graphic work contains its own visual language and led from the early nature study to the late handwritten blackboard diagrams, which he included in his actions, installations and discussions. In the beginning, his graphic works usually had a filigree ductus, sometimes the drawings resembled simplified studies. He liked to make them on everyday found materials.

In the early 1940s and 1950s, Beuys produced numerous drawings that can be associated with objects or sculptural works, mostly using mixed techniques of watercolor and pencil. Among them are female nudes sketched with delicate strokes and animal studies of mostly rabbit- or deer-like creatures. In later works he dealt with phenomena of epistemology and energetic or morphological transformation, which were followed by designs of new social structures.

Beuys understood the works on paper created after 1964 as so-called “scores.” They were closely related to the actions carried out in the 1960s and early 1970s, had a rather functional character, and are to be understood “in the sense of pictorial-artistic practice as preparatory work for the actual work.” The chalk drawings on school blackboards created during his numerous lectures likewise had the character of the score. On the one hand, the musical and rhythmic aspect of these drawings resounds in them; on the other hand, they give an indication of the props he used in his actions. The “diagrams” of the 1970s document an increasingly intense engagement for the idea of a social sculpture and sometimes have “the character of protocols of his pedagogical efforts.” Structural references are made in them, revealing that Beuys” work not only sought a dialogue with signs and visual culture, but also an engagement with philosophy, literature, the natural and social sciences. It “motivated him to draw both the phenomena of nature and inner images and ideas: Ideas of German Idealism, early Romanticism, the Enlightenment, 19th and 20th century philosophy.”

Fluxus and action art

Fluxus, Action Art and Happening were primarily art phenomena of the late 1950s that reached their peak in the 1960s. Fluxus was the first time that European and American artists worked together in a common movement.

After Beuys met Nam June Paik on July 5, 1961 at the opening of the exhibition ZERO. Edition, Exposition, Demonstration at the Schmela Gallery, Beuys met Nam June Paik, and a year later George Maciunas, he carried out some thirty major actions. It began with the year 1962, when he developed ideas for an earth piano. Most of these actions Joseph Beuys realized in the 1960s, for example in 1963 the Siberian Symphony 1st movement and the composition for 2 musicians at the Festum Fluxorum Fluxus. Presenting a self-conceived sequence of events to an audience, performed with one”s own person and body, had already been anticipated by the Futurists, the Dadaists, and the Happenings. Beuys”s actions are considered the core of his work because he covered them with a plastic theory by assigning materials such as grease or felt, which Beuys had been purchasing from Vereinigte Filzfabriken AG in Giengen an der Brenz since the 1960s, to the “warmth” and the “coldness,” which he recognized as “polar basic principles.” In addition to sonic and acoustic signals, the use of the artist”s own person shows the intention to open up a conventional concept of art to an “expanded art” that mirrors the “unity of genres”. The special aspect of “movement” illustrates a “nomadic habitus” (Beuys) and thus a principle of the artist”s life and work.

Beuys” first Fluxus actions initially attracted little attention from the general public, but the artist nevertheless managed to achieve international renown in a short time with his controversially discussed actions and installations, and soon ranked first on the German art scene. In contrast to the Happening, Beuys did not directly involve his audience, but knew how to integrate audience reactions into his performances: During an action at the “Festival of New Art” in Aachen on July 20, 1964, an enraged student beat his nose bloody. Although the blood flowed down his nose, he spontaneously incorporated the attack into the action and grabbed a crucifix to “demonstratively hold it in front of the outraged audience.” A photo of this action by Heinrich Riebesehl soon circulated in the German press.

During the 24-hour happening in June 1965 in the Wuppertal gallery Parnass of the gallerist Rolf Jährling, he brought in his action and in us … among us … landunter by the use of the materials originally belonging to the Arte Povera honey, fat, felt and copper a symbolic “thing vocabulary” artistically to view, which he occupied in this action with the meanings “energy storage”, “tension” and “creativity”. Other actions with titles like how to explain the pictures to the dead rabbit, 1965, Infiltration Homogenous for concert grand piano, 1966, EURASIA, 1966, Manresa, 1966, and Titus Andronicus

The artist always planned his actions meticulously: he made numerous scores in advance and noted down his ideas; in doing so, despite all spontaneity, he left nothing to chance, which becomes clear in the film document EURASIENSTAB (Antwerp 1968): The viewer often sees Beuys looking at his wristwatch in order to precisely coordinate his actions with the organ music of contributing composer Henning Christiansen.

With Christiansen, Beuys also performed Celtic (Kinloch Rannoch) Scottish Symphony in Edinburgh from August 26 to 30, 1970. The performance was part of the festival Strategy: Get Arts (Contemporary Art from Düsseldorf, presented at Edinburgh College of Art by the RDG in association with Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, for the Edinburgh International Festival).

With the planning and implementation of the Kassel city greening action 7000 oaks, Beuys realized a social art in the form of a landscape artwork in which life, art, politics and society form a unity. In order to be able to actually green the city of Kassel with this action for documenta 7, he had to master a mammoth organizational task. In the course of the action, he experienced that his collectors did not sufficiently support him in financing this action, although they had so far experienced an enormous increase in the value of his works. In order to actually raise the necessary DM 3.5 million, Beuys went so far as to appear in a commercial for the Japanese whisky brand Nikka. The sentence, “I made sure, the whisky was really good,” brought in DM 400,000 alone. Beuys commented on this effort by saying, “I”ve been advertising all my life, but you should take an interest in what I was advertising.”

Many of Joseph Beuys” art actions were captured on film by photographers such as Gianfranco Gorgoni, Bernd Jansen, Ute Klophaus, and Lothar Wolleh. Beuys used these photographs in part as positive as well as negative reproductions for his multiples. In later Fluxus actions, Beuys used tonal and atonal compositions and noise collages, incorporating microphones, tape recorders, feedback, various musical instruments, and his own voice. He collaborated with other artists, such as Henning Christiansen, Nam June Paik, Charlotte Moorman, and Wolf Vostell. He especially appreciated the US composer and artist John Cage. He created works such as Eurasia and 34th movement of Siberian Synphony with the introductory motif of the division of the cross, 1966. In the action …oder sollen wir es verändern, 1969, he played the piano and Henning Christiansen the violin. Beuys swallowed cough syrup while Christiansen played a tape with noise collages of voices, birdsong, sirens wailing, and other electronic sounds.

In 1969, Joseph Beuys was invited by composer and director Mauricio Kagel to participate in his film Ludwig van on the 200th anniversary of Ludwig van Beethoven”s birth. Beuys contributed with an action the sequence Beethoven”s Kitchen. The filming was commissioned by WDR and took place in Beuys” studio on October 4.


The documenta 5 of 1972 is seen as a caesura in Beuys” work; during the 100 days of the exhibition he had made himself available for discussion with the public. In the following, he developed an expanded concept of art, with which he outlined his idea of a “comprehensive creative transformation of life” and sought to capture it in the concept of social sculpture. “To shape a social order like a sculpture, that is my task and the task of art.” The core of this idea consisted in the notion that “man” was to be changed with the means of “art,” thus taking a counter-position to the means of “class struggle” designed in the 1960s. The own person is, so to speak, the material and the human being has the task to shape this material on his own responsibility like a sculpture as a work of art. At the same time, Social Sculpture thus also represents Beuys” expanded concept of art.

In the 1970s, he intensified the dissemination of this idea through discussions and television appearances. In contrast to the statements of other artists, his aim was not to create interpretive aids for his works and their reception, but to deal with the great questions of humanity in the framework of which he saw his works positioned.

In his lecture “Was aber ist KAPITAL?” at the “Bitburger Gespräche” in early 1978, Beuys developed his own system of economic values. In it, art plays an important role as the true capital of human abilities. The formula Art = Capital, which he wrote and signed on a ten-mark bill in 1979, “can certainly be taken literally, since he described the creativity and creative energy of the individual as the capital and potential of a society.”

His statement “Every man an artist,” which is often discussed and gives rise to diverse interpretations, is once again addressed in detail by Beuys in his famous speech at the Münchner Kammerspiele on November 20, 1985. The speech was recorded on film and gives a direct impression of Beuys as a speaker.

Often wrongly attributed to Joseph Beuys is the German translation of a poem titled “Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler” (“Everyone is an artist”) (alternative titles also “Anleitung zum guten Leben,” “Lebe!” or named after the first line “Lass dich fallen”), which has been circulating on the Internet for years. The English-language original (“How to be an artist”) was written by the American artist SARK.

Room installations, showcases and objects

The monumental spatial installations, which were always created for a specific context of content and location, also made clear the way in which Beuys saw his work as a unity of forms, materials, and practical as well as theoretical action. The parallel process he called the juxtaposition of artistic work on “counter-images” and conceptuality that was fundamental to him, he finally suspended in public projects, such as the 7000 oaks for the city of Kassel, which he began in 1982 for documenta 7. The assessment that Beuys had also lived this unity led to his labeling as the “last visionary in 20th century art”.

Quite a few objects in Beuys” installations, including various objects and relics in a group of similar showcases, are remnants of earlier actions. He understood his installation art as a transformation of the idea – as a thought that is presented plastically as an “energy carrier” and should challenge or provoke the viewer to think.

The artist had laid out most of his sculptures and objects years earlier in his extensive drawings and scores, in order to realize them later. The same applies to his painterly work, which, however, is of lesser extent.

In this complex of works, Beuys also illustrated physical phenomena, such as that of electricity. An example of this is the work Fond II, 1961-1967, consisting of two tables covered with sheet copper. Thus, in 1968, at an exhibition at the Stedelijk van Abbe Museum in Eindhoven, with the help of the work High-Voltage High-Frequency Generator for FOND II from 1968, which was included with the work and consisted of a car battery, three Leiden bottles, a glass tube wrapped in felt, and a copper ring, he made electrically generated spark discharges crackle between table and table according to the principle of the Tesla transformer. This work, which together with twenty-one other works in a separate room under the title Raumplastik, 1968, was also on display at the 4th documenta, is with them today in the block Beuys in Darmstadt.

The streetcar stop for the Venice Biennale in 1976 marks the beginning of a work phase of large installations and space-related works in which the artist produced both his own life memories and, subsequently, his own work contexts.

At the Venice Biennale in 1980, Beuys realized the first idea for an installation entitled Das Kapital Raum 1970-1977, which found a permanent home in 1984 in the Hallen für Neue Kunst in Schaffhausen, a former textile factory, as a two-story spatial sculpture.

In several works, mercury thermometers are found, among others placed on concert grand pianos, to associate a connection between acoustic tempus and temperature, as in his late work Plight (German: Notlage) from 1985, which he had already conceived in 1958. Plight consisted of two claustrophobically arranged rooms, which Beuys had completely lined with felt rolls (quasi soundproofed), and in which only a concert grand piano was set up, with a blackboard on top of it and a clinical thermometer – an allusion to Bach”s well-tempered piano.

The work Palazzo Regale became Beuys” last room installation, which he set up in 1985 in the Museo di Capodimonte in Naples, and in which the artist took a retrospective stance on his work by thematizing his “own aesthetic and social activity” as the “self-determination” of man. In the former residence of the Bourbons, Beuys set up two brass showcases accompanied on the walls by seven rectangular brass panels. The title alludes to the Palazzo Reale, the palace of the former viceroys in the center of Naples. Purchased by the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in 1991, the installation is, according to Armin Zweite, then director of the Kunstsammlung, “the triumphant summary” of Beuys”s oeuvre.


Joseph Beuys saw in his multiples, his art objects produced as editions, potential carriers and vehicles for the dissemination of his ideas. Through the serial production of the respective object and its distribution, he intended to reach a larger circle of people.

Beuys created multiples from self-designed or found objects on the basis of very different working methods as “the result of deliberate form-finding in the studio, as relics of actions, products of processes, or spontaneously out of a concrete occasion.” Thus, before 1965, woodcuts and etchings, from 1965 on, prints, and from 1980 on, election posters for Die Grünen (The Greens) entered the targeted production of Beuys”s editions. Furthermore, photographs of his actions were used in his multiples; he painted over them or arranged the images in boxes, often with crosses or other overpaintings, which can be compared in part to the Polaroids and automaton photos sewn together in Andy Warhol”s multiples, whereby Beuys emphasized the documentary value, while Warhol focused on the idea of the series. One of Beuys” last multiples was Capri Battery from 1985.

Extension of the concept of art to social sculpture

Studies in natural science and zoology led Joseph Beuys in the late 1960s to have considerable misgivings about what he saw as an overly one-sided understanding of art and science, and to the view that the common empirical theorem was insufficient for epistemological justification as seen by classical natural science. According to Beuys, “the expanded concept of art was the goal of the path from traditional (modern art) to anthropological art.”

Beuys came to the realization that the concepts of “art” and “science” were diametrically opposed to each other in the development of thought in the Occident and that this fact was reason to seek a resolution of this polarization in perception. The examination of Rudolf Steiner”s anthroposophy finally led to his concept of an expanded concept of art and a social sculpture, by which he understood a creative co-creation of society through art. At the end of 1972 Beuys joined the Anthroposophical Society as a member. However, he did not pay his membership fee for a long time, which is why the society did not expel him again, as was sometimes claimed, but “his membership was considered ”dormant””.

For Beuys, a sculpture was more than a three-dimensional work; rather, he saw it as ” composed of indeterminate chaotic, undirected energies, a crystalline principle of form and a mediating principle of movement.” To the pole of warmth, the chaotic energy, he assigned the pole of cold, the crystalline form principle. For Beuys, these two poles were an energy capable of transforming the respective pole into its opposite. Heat and cold are, according to Beuys, “superspatial plastic principles.” He developed his plastic theory during his studies of the Romantics Novalis, Philipp Otto Runge as well as Rudolf Steiner and, from 1973, Wilhelm Schmundt, after meeting him at the 1st Annual Third Way Congress at the International Cultural Center in Achberg. In connection with this, Beuys sought to restore the lost unity of nature and spirit by opposing purpose-oriented thinking with a holistic understanding that incorporates archetypal, mythical and magical-religious connections. He transferred the plastic principle involved in the creation of a cooling “form” through the intervention of the sculptor (“movement”), in which the hot, warm raw material in a state of “chaos” is transformed into the crystalline, into a theory of creative work. By transforming this principle of creation to social coexistence, Beuys made the attempt to make the Western world, which in his view was sick with materialism, reorient itself; with the help of the approach he formulated, a “new social movement” was to be developed, as it was described, among other things, in the 1978 Call to the Alternative. For Beuys, this new social organism was a work of art that he called the “social sculpture” (or at times: the “social sculpture”). All people who worked on this new social system were “members of the living substance of this world.”

Art criticism

An early critic of Beuys”s work was the Düsseldorf-based British art critic John Anthony Thwaites, who questioned Beuys”s practices as a whole, mainly because of the gap between his utopian ideals and what Thwaites perceived as “gross self-aggrandizement.” Moreover, he compared Beuys to neo-Marxists. His criticism culminated in his accusing Beuys of aestheticizing politics like Adolf Hitler.In the 1980s, Beuys”s treatment of National Socialism became a major issue among art historians in the United States. Benjamin Buchloh, Thomas McEvilley, Frank Gieseke, and Albert Markert, among others, contradicted the prevailing opinion, especially among Joseph Beuys” circle, that he was the only artist of his generation who had not repressed the Nazi era. Buchloh saw Beuys” behavior, especially his later stylization and mythicization of his plane crash over the Crimea in World War II-the artist had attributed the use of felt in his work to the material with which the Tatars, during their alleged weeks of caring for the severely wounded man, had saved his life-as an indication that the artist had joined the processes of repression of the postwar period and had “come to terms” with their “neurotic conditions.

The American art critic Donald Kuspit, on the other hand, took the view that Beuys had rather not only processed his experiences in his work, but had also turned them into a positive; he therefore interpreted the mythicization of his life story initiated by Beuys himself not as a falsification, but as a conscious reinterpretation with the aim of making sure of his own memory. Kuspit found that in his form of processing, the artist demonstrated to the audience, as it were on behalf of the Germans, a creative attitude for dealing with one”s own history.

The art critic Hans Platschek took the commercial success of the 1970s and 1980s as an opportunity to question the seriousness of the political claim of Beuys”s Social Sculpture. In his book Über die Dummheit in der Malerei (On Stupidity in Painting), Platschek reproached Beuys for “instrumentalizing social conditions only for his own purposes and actually serving the capitalist art market particularly well with a metaphysically charged offer.” According to Platschek, Beuys successfully appeals primarily to a saturated bourgeois audience. “He delivers, metaphysician in supermarket, the supernatural free of charge.” Serving a need for supposed profundity, Beuys “caused a furor in the markets in the West” with his “approach of taking political conditions as magic, the world of commodities as still life, and social conditions as craft materials.”

Beuys” approach of evaluating and remedying the problems of a modern society from the artist”s point of view, in turn, subsequently prompted diverse groups and associations, from, for example, anthroposophically oriented “holistic teachings” and efforts of “natural medicine” to “self-help” initiatives, to draw on elements of Beuys” thought construct for their goals; the sentence “Everyone is an artist”, taken out of its context, served as proof of a supposed arbitrariness in contemporary art and inspired painting circles and pedagogues until the 1990s. “Every person is an artist. In saying that, I”m not saying anything about quality. I”m only saying something about the principal possibility that exists in every human being I declare the creative to be the artistic, and that is my concept of art.” Beuys biographer Hans Peter Riegel called for Beuys to be reconsidered against the backdrop of folk esotericism and pre-Christian “occultism” because of his reception of Rudolf Steiner”s teachings. The filmmaker and expert on the subject, Rüdiger Sünner, on the other hand, considered the accusation that Joseph Beuys had transported brown ideas into art to be groundless in an interview. Eugen Blume also rejected the accusation that Beuys had sought “proximity to old Nazis.

Art market

During the years of Beuys” teaching at the Düsseldorf Art Academy (1966-1969), his importance on the art market grew in parallel. This was triggered by Karl Ströher”s internationally acclaimed purchase of the complete Beuys collection in Mönchengladbach. At the same time, Ströher had sold a valuable collection of expressionist and informal post-war paintings in order to use the proceeds to finance the Beuys collection and the purchase of a renowned Pop Art collection. With this coup, the media had found a suitable subject; alongside the American superstar Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys was able to establish himself as a European counterpart. Prices at the art fairs finally rose rapidly in 1969. As a result, Beuys took fourth place in the 1973 Art Compass, a world ranking of the 100 most important contemporary artists, ahead of Yves Klein, and fifth place from 1974 to 1976, second place in 1971 and 1978, and first place in 1979 and 1980, both ahead of Robert Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol.

The prices that Beuys” works fetched on the market were sometimes met with incomprehension in view of the materials, which were unfamiliar in art; for example, the purchase of the environment “zeige deine Wunde” (“show your wound”), consisting of old mortuary stretchers and fat, by the Lenbachhaus in Munich in 1980 for 270,000 German marks was commented on as the acquisition of the “most expensive bulky waste of all time”.

Equally critically discussed in this context was the scandal about the fat corner that Joseph Beuys had installed in the Düsseldorf Art Academy in 1982 and which was posthumously removed by a cleaner in 1986. In the course of the trial, which ended in a settlement in the second instance, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia undertook to pay the plaintiff and Beuys master student Johannes Stüttgen 40,000 DM in damages.

Likewise, the art object untitled (bathtub), created in 1960, gained notoriety as Joseph Beuys” bathtub and became an anecdote in recent art history with media attention after the objet trouvé, a bathtub covered with sticking plaster and gauze bandages, had been cleaned and used for other purposes at the celebration of a local SPD association in 1973. In this case, too, the owner, art collector Lothar Schirmer, was awarded damages.

Art Theory

The reception of Beuys” work today is based throughout on interpretations, contemporary quotations, and writings by and about Joseph Beuys, as well as on visual and film materials documenting his actions. Recent art historiography has so far presented two main approaches: the classification of Beuys”s oeuvre as a whole according to its thematic and formal emphases, and the sifting of the works of a Weltbildentwurf in the context of classical modernism.

In addition to the early cycle of a curriculum vitae, the drawings, actions, and spatial installations, the classification of the work also lists the public speeches as part of the artistic oeuvre. In contrast to the statements of other artists, his aim was not to create interpretive aids for his works and their reception, but to deal with the great questions of humanity, in the framework of which he saw his works positioned.

For Beuys” work and for his thinking, a “mesh of ideas of wholeness” is stated, whose “unsystematic openness” is opposed to the conventional concept of wholeness from “coherence and coherence”; the design of a unity of work and life is no longer covered by a conventional concept of art. The possibilities of extending the concept of art, especially in social sculpture, to all areas of life led, among other things, to a subsequent adaptation in anthroposophy, especially since Beuys himself had repeatedly referred to his reading of Rudolf Steiner. This approach is evident in some biographies about the artist.

He was hostile to modernity. Its rationalism was destroying people”s souls, which was more reprehensible than the Holocaust: “This society is ultimately even worse than the Third Reich. Hitler only threw the bodies into the ovens.” Science and the democratic political system of the Federal Republic would perpetuate the “principle of Auschwitz”.

For Joseph Beuys, creative and political action was linked to his idea of free man and man as a natural and social being. Since 1971, his socio-political activities were aimed at educational policy, with the goal of creating an alternative to the state educational situation. He was against a private and state capitalism, rather for a free and democratic socialism. At the same time, he opposed the socialist concept of class: “I can”t work with the concept of class. For him, art was liberation politics. The impact of Beuys” political commitment remained controversial. Rudi Dutschke noted in his diary: “Joseph was brilliant in art and ignorant in economics.”

German Student Party (DSP)

On June 22, 1967, a few days after the death of the student Benno Ohnesorg, Beuys founded the German Student Party (DSP) as a reaction to the smoldering student unrest. To this end, he organized a “public explanation” of the DSP on the academy lawn in front of the Düsseldorf Art Academy with about 200 students, journalists and the AStA chairmen. On June 24, 1967, the “German Student Party” was entered in the register of associations – with Joseph Beuys (1st chairman), Johannes Stüttgen (2nd chairman) and Bazon Brock (3rd chairman).

In the founding minutes of Johannes Stüttgen, written on November 15, 1967, it was stated: “The necessity of the new party, whose essential concern is the education of all people to spiritual maturity, was expressly emphasized, especially in view of the acute threat posed by politics oriented toward materialism and lacking in ideas, and the stagnation associated with it.” Furthermore, the student party had declared its support for the Basic Law in its “pure form.” Further goals were “absolute weaponlessness, a united Europe, the self-administration of autonomous limbs such as law, culture, economy, elaboration of new points of view on education, teaching, research, the dissolution of dependence on East and West.”

In order to dissolve the restriction to students, Beuys renamed the “German Student Party” in March 1970 to “Organization of Nonvoters, Free Popular Vote.” The goals were: “Expansion of political activities to all groups of society with the goal of analyzing the structures of consciousness and action in society and, through the knowledge gained, to win people over to central individual and social possibilities for change in an educational process analogous to ”plastic theory.”” On June 19, 1971, the “Organization for Direct Democracy through Referendum” was founded, into which the “Organization of Non-Voters” was absorbed.

Organization for direct democracy through referendum

For documenta 5 in 1972, Joseph Beuys was present with his information office of the Organization for Direct Democracy through Referendum on a daily basis for the duration of the documenta, i.e. for 100 days. He discussed with visitors the idea of direct democracy through referendum and its possibilities of realization. On the desk of the information office there was always a long-stemmed red rose. Using the rose, Beuys explained to the visitors the relationship between evolution and revolution, which for him meant that the rose was an image of an evolutionary process towards a revolutionary goal: “This blossom does not come about in a jerky way, but only as a result of an organic growth process, which is designed in such a way that the blossoms are germinatively predisposed in the green leaves and are formed from these Thus the blossom is a revolution in relation to the leaves and the stem, although it has grown in organic transformation, the rose as a blossom only becomes possible through this organic evolution.”

In the program papers for the “Organization for Direct Democracy through Referendum”, the artist set up his democratic system of order of spiritual life, legal life and economic life in accordance with the threefold idea of Rudolf Steiner and the ideals of the French Revolution.

On October 8, 1972, the last day of documenta 5, Beuys, under the refereeing direction of his student Anatol Herzfeld, held the legendary “Boxing Match for Direct Democracy by Popular Vote” against Abraham David Christian-Moebuss after the latter had challenged his teacher. The boxing match took place in Ben Vautier”s room at the Fridericianum. Beuys won the boxing match in three rounds with a points victory.

Freie Internationale Universität (FIU)

The Free International University (FIU), or “Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research,” as it was also called, was a non-profit supporting association founded by Joseph Beuys, together with Klaus Staeck, Georg Meistermann and Willi Bongard, on April 27, 1973, and was intended as an “organizational place for research, work and communication to think through the questions of a social future.” The foundation for this was an educational blueprint, the first premise of which was the fundamental renewal of the educational system. For an expanded educational program, the renewal of the entire educational system was necessary, and with it the change of the organizational structure as well as the methods and content of teaching and the complete independence of schools and universities from the paternalism of the state.

Beuys did not want to form a political program, but rather to create new competing educational institutions in order to gradually overcome the old institutions. In his opinion, the entire school sector should become autonomous in its concerns. Joseph Beuys had already been working on the idea of designing and founding a free “university for creativity and interdisciplinary research” since the early 1970s in the course of developing his teaching activities. The FIU existed as a registered association until 1988.

Action Group of Independent Germans

The Greens

Since the spring of 1977, Green lists were founded in the Federal Republic. In 1979, Joseph Beuys ran for the European Parliament as a direct candidate for “The Greens” and won Rudi Dutschke for joint campaign appearances. The AUD broke away in favor of the “Greens” (today: Bündnis 90

From March 22 to 23, 1980, Beuys took part in their national party conference in Saarbrücken. Before a panel discussion on the subject of the “dismantling of democratic rights,” Petra Kelly and Joseph Beuys faced questions from the press at the election campaign highlight of the “Greens” in Münster on May 9, 1980. In 1982, during the final phase of the international arms race, Beuys appeared at events of the West German peace movement with Wolf Maahn”s band and musicians from BAP as a political singer with the song Sonne statt Reagan. On July 3, 1982, Beuys appeared on the ARD music program Bananas with Sonne statt Reagan as a pop interpreter. The BAP singer Wolfgang Niedecken, who, according to his own statement, was not privy to the preparations for the performance, reported that he had only learned of his band”s appearance with Beuys as the singer in front of the television. The lyrics to the song were written by the advertising copywriter Alaine Thomé, the music by Klaus Heuser. The Green Party had commissioned the protest song, which prompted some critical remarks about the level of the performance. The recording with Beuys was released in 1982 by EMI Electrona as a single with a signed sleeve and the title Kräfte sammeln on the back.

In November 1982, at the national party conference in Hagen, Beuys declared his willingness to run again in North Rhine-Westphalia on the state list for the German Bundestag, and was subsequently nominated as the party”s candidate for the Bundestag in the Düsseldorf-Nord constituency on January 21, 1983. When he was not listed on one of the top places by the state delegates” conference, he withdrew his candidacy the following day. Beuys thus ended his direct involvement with the Greens, but remained a member of the party until his death.

In the lockdown, the honors and events usually all had to be cancelled. The Mülheim an der Ruhr Art Museum organized various exhibitions in the showcase here. As a highlight of the Mülheim commemoration, a stamp Individuell printed by Deutsche Post with the motif La rivoluzione siamo Noi (The Revolution is Us) is published in cooperation with the Museum of Modern Art Munich and the Förderkreis für das Kunstmuseum Mülheim an der Ruhr e. V. (Association for the Promotion of the Mülheim an der Ruhr Art Museum).


In 1993, as part of the series “German Painting of the 20th Century,” the German Federal Post Office issued an 80-penny special stamp in his honor with the motif Lagerplatz, 1962 – 1966, Museum Abteiberg.

With a first issue date of June 10, 2021, Deutsche Post AG issued a special postage stamp with a face value of 155 euro cents to mark the artist”s 100th birthday. The design was created by graphic artist Frank Philippin from Aschaffenburg.

In his native city of Krefeld, Beuys is permanently present in the Kaiser Wilhelm Museum with an ensemble of works consisting of seven objects that he himself set up in 1984.

In today”s Museum Kurhaus Kleve, as well as in its premises in the former Friedrich-Wilhelm Bad (today Joseph Beuys West Wing), which Beuys used as a studio from 1957 to 1964, several of his works can be found. An extensive complex of works by the artist can be seen in the Beuys block in the Hessisches Landesmuseum in Darmstadt. Near Bedburg-Hau in the district of Kleve, the Museum Schloss Moyland Foundation currently houses large collections of works and archival materials by and about Joseph Beuys in Schloss Moyland.

Other works by Beuys can be found in the Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, the Pinakothek der Moderne and the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich, the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin (which is also home to the Joseph Beuys Media Archive), the Kunstmuseum Basel, the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg, the Kunstmuseum Bonn, the Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen in Düsseldorf, the Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the Städel in Frankfurt, the Neue Galerie in Kassel and the museum FLUXUS+ in Potsdam. In addition, Beuys” works are present at the Centre Georges-Pompidou in Paris, the MoMA in New York, in Chicago, Minneapolis and Tokyo, as well as in other museums and many galleries worldwide.

Images, video and audio recordings


  1. Joseph Beuys
  2. Joseph Beuys