Joseph Beuys

Date/place of birth

12 May 1921 in Krefeld

Day/place of death

23 January 1986 in Düsseldorf

Joseph Beuys - Sonnenkreuz
Joseph Beuys - Sonnenkreuz

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Joseph Beuys biography

He was the sun king of German performance art and is still counted as one of the most controversial and influential artists today: Joseph Beuys saw art as a changing force, staging himself as a savior and restlessly acting as a driving force for the design and creation of a new world.

Joseph Beuys – Diverse interests, early artistic activity

Joseph Beuys was born on 12 May 1921 in Krefeld. The son of a businessman, he spent his childhood in Kleve near the Dutch border. He attended the Catholic high school and the state grammar school, learnt to play the piano and cello and was noticeable early on for his great talent for drawing. One of his first supporters was the Flemish sculptor and painter Achilles Moortgat who introduced Joseph Beuys to the work of Georg Minne and Constantin Meunier. The work of Auguste Rodin, William Turner and Edvard Munch also left a great impression. Nordic mythology and history held a further interest as did technology and science which led Beuys at times to play with the idea of becoming a pediatrician. He claimed later to have saved an edition of Systema Naturae by Carl von Linnés from being destroyed in a book burning by the National Socialists. At the age of 15 as a member of the Hitler Youth he took part in the Sternmarsch to the Reich Party Congress in Nuremberg. In 1939 he travelled with a circus for about a year working as animal keeper and poster carrier.

The biography as artistic fiction

Joseph Beuys created not only sculptures, he created, above all, also himself. Between biography and biographical fiction there is sometimes a blatant gap: thus the artist, who later became a pacifist and peacemaker, volunteered to join the Air Force for twelve years; he wanted to be a pilot and fly, but only reached the post of radio operator. In 1944, due to poor visibility, he was involved in a crash on Crimea where the pilot died, and Joseph Beuys was discovered injured by a German search party. He spent three weeks in a military hospital. In retrospect, Beuys turned It into an adventurous penny novel, telling of how he, as pilot, had been shot down by Russian hunters after a heated battle and after twelve days of unconsciousness had been found by nomadic Tartars. The Tartars treated his wounds with animal fats and felt bandages, explaining his later preference for these materials. This beautifully conceived nonsense is just one of many fantasies with which the egocentric artist decorated his life story. For Joseph Beuys, however, these weren’t lies, but an important component of his artistic vision: like felt hats and fishing vests, the stories were part of his whole work which consisted of his own person, his work, his audience and the everyday. For Beuys, everything was art, and everything had to be art.

Art as the last hope for a world on the edge

After the war Joseph Beuys studied at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie and Edward Mataré made him his master pupil in 1951. His first sculptural works and drawings clearly displayed the influence of his teacher Mataré, but in the following years he increasingly emancipated himself and developed his own symbol-laden aesthetic, influenced by the anthropological teachings of Rudolf Steiner. Like Steiner, Beuys was convinced that the rationalistic and materialistically influenced world needed imaginative power and inspiration in order to achieve a positive change and spiritual renewal. Beuys saw himself as a shaman who could heal the world with his art and did not shrink from the intense use of materials that were actually foreign to art such as fat, honey and felt. He relied on the intuition of his audience and accepted the criticism of rationalism, he engaged himself socially and politically, supported the “Bündnis 90/Die Grünen” party.

Joseph Beuys died on 23 January 1986 in Düsseldorf.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Joseph Beuys Prices

ArtistArtworkPrice
Joseph BeuysSonnenkreuz€396.800
Joseph BeuysSONNENKREUZ€300.000
Joseph BeuysSonnenkreuz (SUN CROSS)€288.000
Joseph BeuysSchlitten€264.000
Joseph BeuysSonnenkreuz (Sun cross)€244.000
Joseph Beuys'€180.000

Joseph Beuys - Current offers and reference objects