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Beuys - Essay Example

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By 1967 the major sixties isms, namely pop art; stained-color-field abstraction, or formalism; and minimalism, had become established in the art world. Their rationales had become familiar, too familiar for them to be thought of as avant-garde. Pop art had been the most notorious of sixties movements up to the end of 1963…
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Download file to see previous pages In actuality it went underground, emerging again, in entirely new guises, only toward the end of the 1970s.
In 1967 Joseph Beuys, a professor of sculpture at the prestigious Dsseldorf Academy of Art, founded the politically dissident German Student Party and in the following year aligned himself with the rioting students, who strongly influenced his attitudes to art and politics. Beuys was born in 1921 at Kleve in the Lower Rhineland, served with the Luftwaffe in the War, enrolled as a student at the Dsseldorf Academy in 1947, and was Professor of Monumental Sculpture there from 1961 until he was dismissed in 1972. Beuys, who remained committed to social change to the end of his life, founded (among other organizations) the Organization of Non-Voters/Free Referendum Information Point in 1970 and the Organization for Direct Democracy through Referendum in 1971. He also waged war against hidebound art education. Beuys summed up his countercultural stance in 1979: "Young people -- the hippies in the '60s, the punks today -- are struggling to find new ways of defining the culture they live in. They, not money, are the capital of society" (Adriani, Konnertz, & Thomas, 1979).
More than any of his contemporaries, Beuys sought to confront the social situation of a physically and psychologically devastated Germany and, by extension, Europe. Facing up to German history and culture -the Nazi period and its antecedents -- he said that he would assume the shamanistic role of exorcising past horrors, indicating the traumas of a time and initiating a healing process." He also believed that the imaginative powers of art could change life and bring about a personal and national rebirth. His ideas appealed to the European art world, because they seemed peculiarly European and -- equally important -- because they were expressed in an advanced visual language. Beuys achieved widespread recognition in 1968 and, in the 1970s, became the most important and influential artist in Europe.
Beuys proposed his art as an alternative to contemporary American art -- which to him meant pop art, exemplified by Warhol, and minimalism. He overlooked the fact that many American post minimalists were also reacting against pop art and minimalism and were, like him, moving into performance and installation art. And they were as affected by the Vietnam War and America's social evils as he had been by the Nazi horror, the Holocaust, the student uprisings of 1968 -- and Vietnam. (But he convinced a significant number of European artists and art professionals that his misreading of American and European art was the correct interpretation, in large measure because they wanted to believe it.)
Beuys's artistic roots were in Dada-inspired fluxus, which had been at the center of the German avant-garde in the early 1960s. Attracted by its use of performance to break down barriers between art and life, he joined the group. In February 1963 he hosted an international fluxus festival, Festum Fluxorum Fluxus at the Dsseldorf Academy. On that occasion he performed the first of his "actions," as he called his theatrical pieces, titled Siberian Symphony. Fluxus artists, who generally favored simple, short, often outrageous and funny sound-producing events, found Beuys's performance too complex and metaphorical for their taste. But much as he ...Download file to see next pagesRead More
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