Joseph Beuys
Germany, 1921
Germany, 1986
Beuys is undoubtedly one of the most influential European artists of the second half of the twentieth century and one of the most controversial in terms of his ideas about the role of art and creativity in modern society. His biography has special significance in his experience as an artist. He himself created legends around certain episodes in his life and turned them into themes for his work. From his earliest years he showed great enthusiasm for the sciences and art, and he chose to study medicine. However, his plans were frustrated when he was called up in 1941. He went into action with the Luftwaffe as a radio operator and later as a pilot. His plane was hit by a Russian missile in the Crimea and crashed in the middle of a blizzard. He was picked up by a group of Tartars who looked after him for eight days, covering him with fat and wrapping him up in felt. Although there are doubts about the truth of those events, the story has become one of the cornerstones of his legendary biography and of his art. He frequently explained that his interest in fat and felt as materials in his sculptures emerged from that experience. After the war he entered the Academy of Fine Arts in Düsseldorf to study sculpture and graduated in 1952. Until the end of the decade, in a state of mind marked by depression and exhaustion, he produced an enormous number of drawings and wood engravings and immersed himself in reading: philosophy, science, poetry, literature and occultism. In 1961 he was appointed to the professorship of sculpture at the Düsseldorf Academy. In the early sixties he met Nam June Paik and took part in the activities of the Fluxus group, who acted as a catalyst for his own actions and his ideas about the way in which art could exercise the greatest possible influence on society. He proposed to broaden the traditional concept of art "to include any human activity"; in that ideal lie the foundations of his work and his philosophy. Throughout his life he preached the need to integrate art and life to reach a state in which the individual could live in harmony with his social and natural environment. True to his philosophy and ideal of social reform, he broadened his activities and became involved in the creation of political parties and activist groups. His charismatic presence at public events at which he advocated the need for social reform, his teaching and his work itself -actions and sculptures with unconventional artistic materials- brought him wide international recognition from the late sixties, though it also had him dismissed from his chair at the Düsseldorf Academy. His reputation in the international art world was consolidated in 1979 with the retrospective at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. From then until his death in 1986 he took part in many exhibitions and travelled constantly, working for his political organisations.
Nimfa Bisbe