Home / news / Artist Joseph Beuys’ Centenary … A journey to recover from war with art

Artist Joseph Beuys’ Centenary … A journey to recover from war with art

A century after his birth and more than 3 decades after his death, Joseph Beuys remains today the most problematic and controversial artist in the history of contemporary art in Germany, whose cultural and artistic institutions are celebrating his centenary next year.

The various events on this occasion relive the old and renewed Boise question about the relationship of the political and the cultural.


In a documentary film bearing his name, the German artist Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) appears on a stage surrounded by critics, artists and academics, attacking his theory in which he said the need to “expand the concept of art”.

Boise seemed to be a paradox in itself; With his thin body, gloomy eyes, oiled and combed hair, he sits forward as a schoolboy, while his words sparkle with new energy, ideas, and original anger at and for Germany.

Boise says something, and the young crowd rushes to applaud him while older bureaucrats get bored: “Throw my work out the window. It goes beyond my business. I want to expand people’s awareness and sensitivity to the political condition in which they live. I don’t think we live in a democracy, I don’t think a free person can be raised.” In our bureaucratic political system, one of them replies, “We must know in which direction you want to expand people’s awareness?”

Boise was wherever he appeared, whether in Germany, a visit to Japan, or a trip to America, people crowded around him asking for his autograph, or crowded as if they were seeing a movie star or flocking to see his show.

The artist and postwar wounds

During the years of World War II, the artist was a soldier in the combat bomber units in the Crimea, and in 1944 his plane crashed, and he got out of this accident claiming that the Tatars (the indigenous people of Crimea) saved him by painting his body with animal fat and wrapping it in felt and took care of him until his health returned to him But many doubted his story and considered it a myth that he built around himself, adding another dimension to his use of these two materials (animal fat and felt) in his artwork, and he even sewed a suit of felt.

Boise appeared as an artist in the 1950s, in a difficult and critical time while Germany, which had just emerged from war, is trying to heal its wounds, judge and understand its past, break free from the shame of its memory and restore its relationship with the world around it. At that time, a trend emerged that saw art as a way to reshape society and help it recover, and Boise was one of those, but the most biased towards the role of art and anger toward politics.

“My profession is not to criticize politics, but to give an example, because most artists do not have the desire to enter the conflict, nor to suggest a new style in art that connects it to people wherever they are, whether in a place where they work or in a problem they face. There is an organic development of art in society, and if artists do not develop a theory describing and envisaging the future of society after capitalism and post-communism, then there is no hope for us to discuss the role of art in society.

Boise’s art passed through different stages, in its early years he produced wood and metal sculptures and lead drawings with a religious content that reflected his Catholic upbringing, then soon he began to paint insects and animals such as bees, swans and elk as an expression of symbolism in his works.

During that period, he was interested in drawing animals and characters from Norse and Celtic mythology, and was So he sees He is paving for himself a path that will isolate him from others and find himself in it. Boise himself – as his country was – was trying to recover and forget the war and what he did in it when he was a soldier and what I did in it. However, by the end of the fifties, no one had turned to him and his work did not receive anyone’s attention.

In those years also Boise became part of the “Flux” group, which included artists from all over the world whose goal was to redefine art and its relationship with society and to give importance to the artistic process more than the product that emerged from it. She highlighted his difference even from those, and attracted the attention of critics and the press, and he soon became an interesting topic in the cultural and artistic circles in Germany.

American love story

Boise received more than one invitation to America, but he refused to visit it at first because of his stance on the Vietnam War, and in May 1974 he accepted his presentation in America on the condition that he would not see it and not set foot on her land.

An ambulance arrived at the airport as requested, and was transported on a stretcher blindfolded so that he could not see anything around him. He arrived on a mobile phone to the “René Block” Gallery in New York, where he stayed for 3 days with the coyote, who was brought from New Mexico.

Boise was sometimes standing, wrapped in a thick gray felt blanket, leaning on a stick, and sometimes the wolf approached him trying to tear the blanket off. At the end of the show, a form of a new relationship appeared between the two. Boyz embraced the wolf before he was transported by ambulance again to the airport, leaving America as he wanted. He did not set foot on her land and did not see her.

About this show, he says, “I wanted to isolate myself and see nothing in America except a coyote.”

Joseph Boyes stayed 3 days with a coyote wrapped in a thick gray felt blanket (social media)

This performance, called “I love America and America loves me,” embodied the way the Boise thought about the long-term coexistence between primitivism and modernity. The coyote represented the Native American population and nature as it existed before the arrival of Europeans, and from critics who found in the coyotes a symbol of man. The Vietnamese, without hiding that optimistic vision carried by the show and confidence in the ability of the wolf to survive and coexist peacefully with the other alien interfering.

Academic experience

Boise was appointed as a professor of art at the Desldruff Academy of Arts in 1962, and in it he began to present his ideas, which considered that art continued to maintain its position in a very closed system politically and culturally, and that the time had come to change that.

His lectures were highly popular, and they carried some of the lecture boards that he filled with his writings and drawings during the explanation as they were to be displayed in a museum, but this glory among students who turned into disciples brought him feelings of jealousy and hostility, especially when he announced that he would not reject any student who wanted to register in his lectures in protest. On the Academy’s policies regarding the admission and distribution of students, or their exclusion.

And when the Foundation rejected his practices, Boise established a group of student organizations whose role was to demonstrate and reject university policies. He also later established with Heinrich Böll the “Free University for Creativity”, which was open to research and receiving artworks and new ideas, and a number of the most important artists in Germany at that era joined it. .

Because of these practices, Boise was expelled from the Academy in 1972, and when he demanded an explanation for his class, Education Minister Johannes Roe told him, “I cannot and will not allow myself to be the subject of a potential work of art.”

It is true that Boise filed a lawsuit against the Academy, won it and returned to his job, but the answer provided by Rowe reveals the extent of the fear that Boise’s colleagues had about his way of thinking about art and his ability to transform anything and anyone into the subject of a work of art, and this means exposure to the public with everything it bears. This word is from the fierceness of criticism, attack, examination, rejection or acceptance.

7 thousand oak trees and a pump of honey

When Boise received an invitation to attend “Documenta 6” in 1977 (a demonstration that began in 1955 and takes place every five years in Kassel and is one of the most important events in contemporary art in the world), he prepared for his participation a pump powered by two powerful motors that pushed honey into a 17-meter-high tube extending to A distribution network runs through the rooms of the Museum of Fredericianum.

The pump has attracted attention and has become a “workplace” around which conversations, speeches and discussions revolve around groups from different countries. For 100 days, Boise recounted his ideas about the need for art and society to change, and presented his theory on the concept of expanding art and what makes it different from the traditional concept of art.

In 1982, he was invited again to Documenta 7, to present his most intrusive work in the environment. The artist went out into a public square in Kassel and threw a large pile of basalt stones and shaped them into an arrow pointing to an oak tree he had planted.

He stipulated that no stone be moved from its place except by planting a tree instead. It took several years for Boise to achieve his goal of planting 7,000 oak trees, and this work became an icon in what has become known as “participatory social sculpture.”

The goal of the project was not only environmental intervention, but rather a satire of deaf housing systems and buildings invading green areas, just as it was a victory for the average person over the power that his city plans and decides the size and location of its green spaces.

Boise’s message arrived, and conservative politicians provoked the oak trees and tried to stop planting them, but the project continued with the participation of thousands of volunteers, bearing the name of its owner who considered that “every tree is a monument.”

Boise died in 1986, and after his death his son “planted” the last tree of the “7,000 Oak Trees” project in Kassel.

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