born 1921, Krefeld,
Germany / died 1986, Düsseldorf
Joseph Beuys was born
May 12, 1921, in Krefeld, Germany. During his school years in Kleve, Beuys
was exposed to the work of Achilles Moortgat, whose studio he often visited,
and was inspired by the sculptures of Wilhelm Lehmbruck. Beuys began to
study medicine in 1940, but his studies were interrupted when he joined the
army and served as a fighter pilot. During a mission in 1943, he was badly
injured when his plane crashed in a desolate region of south Russia. This
experience would resonate in all of his later work.
After the war, he
decided to dedicate his life to art. In 1947, he registered at the
Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where he studied under Joseph Enseling
and Ewald Mataré. After Beuys graduated in 1951, the brothers Franz Joseph
and Hans van der Grinten began to collect his work. Eventually becoming his
most important patrons, they organized his first solo show at their house in
Kranenburg in 1953. Beuys was appointed professor of monumental sculpture at
the Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in 1961. The year after, he began to
associate with Fluxus artists, principally Nam June Paik and George
Maciunas, and later he met Minimalist artist Robert Morris. He helped to
organize the Festum Fluxorum Fluxus at the Staatliche Kunstakademie
Düsseldorf in 1963, and he participated for the first time in Documenta in
Kassel in 1964.
In 1967, Beuys founded
the German Student Party, one of the numerous political groups that he
organized during the next decade. In 1972, he was dismissed from the
Staatliche Kunstakademie Düsseldorf amid great controversy for admitting to
his class over 50 students who previously had been rejected. The following
year, he founded the Free International University for Creativity and
Interdisciplinary Research. He increasingly became involved in political
activities and in 1976 ran for the German Bundestag. In 1978, he was made a
member of the Akademie der Kunst, Berlin. The 1970s were also marked by
numerous exhibitions throughout Europe and the United States. Beuys
represented Germany at the Venice Biennale in 1976 and 1980. A retrospective
of his work was held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1979.
He was made a member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, in 1980.
During the inauguration of the 1982 Documentain Kassel, Beuys planted the
first of 7,000 oak trees; in other cities, he repeated this tree-planting
action several times in the following years. In January 1986, the artist
received the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Prize in Duisburg. On January 23, 1986, Beuys
died in Düsseldorf.