Thursday, 18 February 2010

Joseph Beuys (1921-1986)

Notes from a lecture delivered Monday 8th Februaury 2010, Newcastle Arts Centre, Westgate Road. Part of the Visions strand of the Explore Membership Scheme of the North East Centre for Lifelong Learning.

"Art is a genuinely human medium for revolutionary change in the sense of completing the transformation from a sick world to a healthy one." (Beuys quoted in Quartetto, exhibition catalog, Arnoldo Mondadori Editore, 1984, Milano, p. 106)

Strange materials
Fat
Felt
Honey
Copper
Animals
Plants
Basalt

Installations
All round (Plight)
Enclosed: the vitrines
Changing (Tramstop)
Interactive (Kinloch Rannoch Scottish Symphony)
Editions (Mary Boone Jan 2010)

Performance
Action (I like America)
Film (Arena)
Lectures (in 1973 he gave a lecture “A Homage to Anacharsis Cloots” at Richard Demarco’s Arts Summer School. Lasted 12 hours)
Symphonies.

Subject (Beuys installing Sled)
His own self
Myth
History
Culture and science
Philosophy
Natural history
Alchemy
Redemption/healing/repair.
Ecology

Legacy
Frivolous cult of the personality
Or
Liberating/ involving and democratic?

Brief Chronology
1921 Born in Krefeld. Grows up in Kleve near Dutch border. Father runs a dairy co-op, mother is the receptionist, both Catholic.
1930 Hard times for his father. Beuys begins interest in plants and animals.
1933 Nazis take control of local government in Kleve.
1936 participates in Sternmarsch to Nuremberg organised by Hitler Youth.
1938 Runs away to Circus
1940-5 wartime career
1950s trains as an artist, personal problems but at end of decade has position as professor and is married
1960s begins exhibiting career. Controversial avant garde activities culminate in support for student occupation of the Kunstakademie.
1970s regular visitor to Edinburgh Festival.(70, 73, 74, 80, 81) Part of his Free International initiative. Travels to US for first time. Holds retrospective at Guggenheim 1979-80.
1980-86 inaugurates the 7000 Oaks project at Dokumenta VII. Writes Anti-Reagan pop song, is elected Green Party candidate for Bundestag but withdraws disappointed by level of support. Hugely active in international art world. Develops lung problem in 1985 leads to death from heart attack in his studio, January 23rd 1986.

War-time
1940 takes his final school exams. Decides to volunteer for the Luftwaffe: “If the others go I go to.”
1941 training as radio operator.
1942 Russian front, Czech training school.
1943 writes to parents from Italy that he has decided to become an artist.
1944 recieves the “Medal for fighter pilots”. Crashes in Crimea, hospitalized, receives Iron Cross. Continues training as combat pilot.
1945 part of the “Erdmann Phantom Division” on Western Front. Wounded late April, awarded medal then captured by British May 9th. Returns home to family August 1945.

Early Years
1946-7 studying for entry to art academy
1947-51 Kunstacademie Dusseldorf Taught by Ewald Mataré (1887- 1965)
1950s Self-doubt, money troubles and PTSD. Works as a sculptor in Dusseldorf but suffers depression for which he is treated at psychiatric clinics in Dusseldorf and Essen. By end of the decade he has large commissions for war memorials and has married.
1961 holds first one person show, Kleve. Appointed professor at Kunstacademie Dusseldorf.
Meets Yves Klein, Naim June Paik and George Macunias.
1963 exhibits in Fluxus festival in Dusseldorf. First “Action”. “Life with Pop. Demonstration for Capitalist Realism.”

Read
Andrew Causey (1998) Sculpture Since 1945, Oxford History of Art. Pp.139-44
Mark Rosenthal (2005) Joseph Beuys Actions, Vitrines, Environments, TATE.
Joseph Beuys in Scotland, Cencrastus Issue 80 Spring 2005

Links
Transformer (Documentary dir. John Halpern, 1979)

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