joseph beuys born in 1921 in Krefeld, raised in Kleve, died in 1986 in Düsseldorf
Joseph Beuys was a draughtsman, sculptor, action and installation artist, teacher, politician and activist. Along with Marcel Duchamp, John Cage and Andy Warhol he is widely considered one of the most significant artists of the 20th century. He fundamentally altered the nature, materiality, language, boundaries and tasks of art. In his practice – universal in its scope – Beuys explored questions pertaining to humanism, social philosophy and anthropology.
Beuys’ attempt to come to terms with his participation in the National Socialist regime, his experiences as a soldier in World War II and his return to a morally compromised society had a profound influence on the evolution of his practice. Taking himself as a model for inner transformation, he sought to democratize himself and society at large, believing that the key lay in the creativity innate in all human beings. The extent to which he succeeded in achieving the transformation to which he aspired remains a point of substantial controversy.
From 1964 onwards he no longer distinguished between his biography and his artwork, having come to view his life as material to be sculpted. This model became the point of departure for his theory of social sculpture, which culminated in 1982 with his documenta contribution »7,000 Oaks«. Joseph Beuys was unique among the artists of his time in his ability to interweave art with social processes and in his call for the adoption of his universalist conception of art as a creative, transformative force within politics, science, philosophy and economics.
His far-reaching ideas remain remarkably astute and pertinent to our times. His early environmental advocacy, which went hand in hand with his critique of economic conditions, is but one example of his foresight. As a formative teacher at the Düsseldorf Academy he instigated a pivotal reevaluation of the education system. His key concern was the expansion of thought and action through art. With his notion that »everyone is an artist« he envisioned a universal world society. Beuys continues to exert a palpable influence upon artistic and political discourse. He nevertheless remains a polarizing figure and force in contemporary society.