Joseph Beuys is born May 12th, 1921 in Krefeld. In 1940 he is summoned to active duty and stationed in the Ukraine as a dive-bomber pilot.
Broad interests ranging from sciences to music, sculpture, cultural history, and philosophy lead him to the Master Class of Joseph Enseling and Ewald Mataré at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie from 1947 to 1951. After his studies, his early works in plastic arts (Brunnen, 1952), and the first one-man show at the House of the Brothers van der Grinten in Kranenburg (1953), Beuys withdraws and develops his theory of an »expanded concept of art«, in which man is the means and point of departure. Beuys understands the work of art as »social sculpture,« as independent creative product beyond mimetic demands with an effective power that affects all areas of life, society, culture, politics, and ecology.
In 1961 Beuys transmits his ideas in a larger context. Borrowing from the Romantic stock of ideas, and also from Rudolf Steiner’s anthroposophy, he is in search of a lost unity of nature and spirit that he attempts to counter with a holistic approach that creates archetypical, mythic and magic religious relations. Materials such as fat, honey and felt prove to be transmitters of meaning in a multifaceted life, which Beuys seeks to make evident through the dynamic relation between organic and crystalline structures. The same year Beuys assumes a professorship for monumental sculpture at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie.
After his first contacts with the Fluxus-movement Beuys participates between 1963 (Aktion mit Fett) in the Rudolf Zwirner Gallery, Köln) and in 1974 in a number of Fluxus-Actions, which unite different artistic genres (applied art, music, theater, literature) and whose interdisciplinary »dynamic nature« appeals to him, according to his own stattements. His sculptures and drawings from the years 1951 to 1956 are presented at the Documenta in 1964, where he is continuously present from then on. He participates in the »Festival der neuen Kunst« (TU Aachen) and makes interventions such as Das Schweigen von Marcel Duchamp wird überbewertet, Wie man dem toten Hasen die Bilder erklärt (Gallery Schmela Düsseldorf, 1965), Eurasia Staff 82 min fluxorum organum (Gallery St. Stephan, Vienna) or Freitagsobjekt 1a gebratene Fischgräte (Eat Art Gallery, Düsseldorf, 1970). The Fluxus-Actions also demonstrate Beuys’ interest in the perception of temporality and standstill like thought processing and the transmitter principle of the artistic idea (Kojote, 1974). Relicts of the interventions, drawings, and object installations (Zeige Deine Wunde, 1974/75) refer back to his artistic concept. In 1977 Beuys is represented at the Documenta 6 (Honigpumpe am Arbeitsplatz) and founds the » Freie Hochschule für Kreativität und interdisziplinäre Forschung e.V.« In1972 Beuys loses his position as professor of the state Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (»Akademiestreit«), which is declared to be illegal by the Bundesarbeitsgericht. Beuys becomes a member of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin in 1978.
In his curriculum vitae, which Beuys composes for the 1964 »Festivals der Neuen Kunst« in Aachen, he maintains »1964: Beuys recommends the Berlin Wall be raised by 5cm (better proportions!)«. But it doesn’t stop with such striking aesthetic-political appeals. After the founding of the »Deutsche Studentenpartei als Metapartei« in 1967 Beuys’ political and ecological engagement in Düsseldorf is getting even more intense in the 1970s and 1980s. In 1972 he erects an information office at the Documenta 5 for the »Organisation für direkte Demokratie durch Volksabstimmung« referendum and stands as a candidate for becoming a representative for the Green Party in the European Parliament in 1979.
In 1979 he also participates in the Biennale in São Paulo (Brazilian Fund). In 1980 the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum devotes a first large retrospective of his work. Spectacular interventions like the Action 7000 Oaks executed at the Documenta 7 in which an imitation of Ivan the Terrible’s crown is melted down and remolded into a »peace rabbit« characterizing Beuys’ aesthetic concept that understands the life and world of people as »work«. Many more Actions follow, as with Beuys’ concert Coyote III, which he executed with Nam June Paik in Tokyo in1984. In 1985 he is represented with an installation Palazzo Regale in the Museo di Capodimonte near Naples, which is still located in the Kunstsammlung NRW (K20).
Beuys dies January 23rd, 1986. In addition to the many objects and multiples he also left behind an expansive collection of drawings.
Joseph Beuys, Werke aus der Sammlung Ulbricht: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstsammlung Nordrhein-Westfalen, hg. v. von Armin Zweite. Düsseldorf 2004
Jappe, G.: Beuys packen. Dokumente 1968 — 1996, Regensburg 1997
Schneede, Uwe M.: Joseph Beuys, Die Aktionen, Kommentiertes Werkverzeichnis mit fotografischer Dokumentation, Ostfildern 1994
Beuys: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthaus Zürich, hg. v. Harald Szeemann, Zürich 1993
Adriani, Götz; Konnertz, W.; Thomas, K.: Joseph Beuys. Leben und Werk, Köln 1986
Beuys zu Ehren: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus, hg. v. Armin Zweite, München 1986