The Artist Birthday Series

Joseph Beuys

Two Tartars, c. 1910
Two Tartars, c. 1910

Records state that Beuys was conscious, recovered by a German search commando, and there were no Tatars in the village at that time. Beuys was brought to a military hospital where he stayed for three weeks from 17 March to 7 April. It is not inconsistent with Beuys’ work that his biography would have been subject to his own reinterpretation; this particular story has served as a powerful myth of origins for Beuys’s artistic identity, as well as providing an initial interpretive key to his use of unconventional materials, amongst which felt and fat were central.

"Fat Chair," 1964 by Joseph Beuys
“Fat Chair,” 1964 by Joseph Beuys

He returned to his parents home in a suburb of Kleve, and there, he met the local sculptor Walter Brüx and painter Hanns Lamers, who encouraged him to take up art as a full-time career. He joined the Kleve Artists Association that had been established by Brüx and Lamers. On 1 April 1946, Beuys enrolled in the “Monumental Sculpture” program at the Düsseldorf Academy of Fine Arts. Initially assigned to the class of Joseph Enseling, with a traditional, representational focus he successfully applied to change his mentor after three semesters and joined the small class of Ewald Mataré in 1947, who had rejoined the academy the preceding year, after having been banned by the Nazis in 1939.

matare beuys
Poster for a 1979 exhibition of collected work by Mataré and some of his students, including that of Joseph Beuys

The anthroposophic philosophy of Rudolf Steiner became an increasingly important basis for Beuys’ reasoning, in his view it is: “… an approach that refers to reality in a direct and practical way, and that by comparison, all forms of epistemological discourse remain without direct relevance to current trends and movements”. Reaffirming his interest in science, Beuys re-established contact with Heinz Sielmann and assisted with a number of nature- and wildlife documentaries in the region between 1947 and 1949.
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1 thought on “Joseph Beuys

  1. […] Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) was a German Fluxus artist, one of the first to organize “happenings” through performance art, who also worked as a sculptor, installation artist, graphic artist, art theorist, and pedagogue. The concepts of humanism, social philosophy and anthroposophy were central to his work and life. He developed his own “extended definition of art,” seeing the artist not as a craftsman but instead as fulfilling the role of modern shaman. Though not a common household name, Beuys is considered by many scholars of art history, as one of the most influential artists of the second half of the twentieth century. […]

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