The Artist Birthday Series

Joseph Beuys

What served to launch Beuys into the public consciousness was that which transpired following his performance at the Technical College Aachen in 1964. As part of a festival of new art coinciding with the 20th anniversary of an assassination attempt on Adolf Hitler, Beuys created a piece of performance art, or “Aktion.” The performance was interrupted by a group of students, one of whom attacked Beuys, punching him in the face. A photograph of the artist, nose bloodied and arm raised, was circulated in the media. It was for this 1964 festival that Beuys produced an idiosyncratic CV, which he titled Lebenslauf/Werklauf (Life Course/Work Course). The document was a self-consciously fictionalized account of the artist’s life, in which historical events mingle with metaphorical and mythical speech (he refers to his birth as the ‘Exhibition of a wound;’ he claims his book, “Ulysses Extension” to have been carried out ‘at James Joyce’s request’ – impossible, given that the writer was, by 1961, long dead). This document marks a blurring of fact and fiction that was to be characteristic of Beuys’ self-created persona, as well as the source of much controversy (although, significantly, there is no mention here of the famous plane crash).

Joseph Beuys, bloodied after
Joseph Beuys, bloodied after being punched in the face by a protester, 1964

On December 4, 1968, Beuys performed a piece entitled “Ja Ja Ja Ne Ne Ne” (Yes Yes Yes No No No). The performance was more than 10 hours long and consisted of the words “Ja Ja Ja” and “Ne Ne Ne” repeated over and over. The inspiration for this work came from Beuys overhearing two elderly women speaking and their conversation seemed to only be comprised of heavy sighing and, “Ja ja ja ja ja” and “ne ne ne ne ne.”

A small sampling of that performance:
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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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