Beuys 100

One hundred years ago, on May 12, the artist Joseph Beuys was born. Through his radical redefinition of sculpture and art more generally and his spectacular performances he became one of the most famous artists of the second half of the 20th century. He developed his concept of the extended art work which led him to become a politically engaged artist working with and for the Green Party.

The 100th birthday of Joseph Beuys is being celebrated with numerous exhibitions and events worldwide. The state of North-Rhine Westphalia in Germany has put on a particularly rich programme, understandably so as Joseph Beuys was born in Krefeld and spent most of his life in Düsseldorf, the second largest city in North-Rhine Westphalia, where he taught at the art academy. I wonder what Beuys would have made of these state sponsored celebrations given that he was a provocateur and questioner of authority.

Closer to home, the Goethe Institute in London is marking the centenary by making available online for the next few days (May 12-15) the documentary “Beuys” by renowned filmmaker Andreas Veiel – I am looking forward to watching it. The Institute is also holding an online discussion on May 14.

An art installation by Joseph Beuys: Das Kapital Raum 1970–1977, first presented at the 1980 Venice Biennale (source: Wikimedia Commons)

No doubt the anniversary will give rise to numerous publications such as exhibition catalogues, biographies, and critical studies. We will endeavour to obtain the most significant ones to enhance our already considerable holdings. The University Library currently holds over 150 volumes by or on Beuys. The earliest publication we hold is a slim catalogue of the exhibition held in 1969 at the Kupferstichkabinett, Kunstmuseum Basel (Ud.6.890) which we received as a donation from the library of the municipal art collection in Basel. While this catalogue is not substantial it is significant as it documents one of the first exhibitions of Beuys’ works in a public gallery; until then his work and performances were presented in small commercial galleries.

Of our more recent acquisitions I am particularly impressed by the volume Beuys, Düsseldorf-Oberkassel, Drakeplatz 4 (S950.a.201.7062) presenting the photographs of Eva Beuys. Drakeplatz 4 was the home and artist’s studio of Joseph Beuys and his family since 1961 when he became professor of sculpture until 1975. The photographs taken by Joseph Beuys’ wife capture the unique atmosphere of and give an insight into the environment in which Joseph Beuys lived and worked.

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I am looking forward to adding Beuys publications from this centenary year to our holdings and hope that they will give fresh insights into Beuys’ creativity and relevance for today.

Christian Staufenbiel

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