Joseph Beuys

Biography of Joseph Beuys

Joseph Beuys (born 1921 in Krefeld, Germany) was one of the most prominent figures of the German Fluxus movement and a paramount and provocative figure in art history. His artistic practice was incredibly vast incorporating drawing, performance, installation, painting, and sculpture, and touching on humanitarian, political, biological and geographical themes. At the center of his art practice were his gesamtkunstwerk or what came to be known as social sculptures—a fusing of a participatory audience and artist, resulting in society becoming one work of art.


Joseph Beuys firmly believed that there is more to art than merely creating a finished object. An artist­’s mission, instead, lies in communicating a message. For Joseph Beuys the actual doing—the physical action—was more important than the end product, resulting in a body of work that is challenging to document, archive, and exhibit. He staged a number of extreme performance pieces throughout his career including the iconic I Like America and America Likes Me in which the artist spent eight hours a day for three days living in a confined space with a coyote.


Considering the ephemerality of Joseph Beuys’ unique works, his multiples become all the more interesting, as these were objects meant to be kept, objects that carried and communicated a message. Throughout his career, the artist produced 557 multiples, each one a carrier of ideas, and an ideal medium for passing on his knowledge and theories on to the greater public.


Joseph Beuys represented Germany twice at the Venice Biennial, first in 1976 and later in 1980. He also performed at each documenta Kassel in his lifetime, most famously with his piece 7,000 Oaks in 1982 in which he planned to plant 7000 oak trees throughout the city. Retrospectives of his work have been held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, the ICA in London, Kunsthaus Zurich, Museum Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, Tate Modern in London and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

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