May 12,1921-January 23,1986...Germany
wish to go more and more outside to be among the problems of nature and problems of human beings in their working places."
The first prominent Process Artist was the unlikely artist from Krefeld, Germany,
Joseph Beuys. In his youth he was quite interested in the sculptures and landscape paintings by
Belgian artist Achilles Moortgat, whom would visit him in his studio, as well as the works of German
Sculptor Wilhelm Lehmbruck. Art was a side interest and he chose to go to school to study medicine.
After a short time of study, he joined the German military and served as a co-pilot gunner in Nazi Luftwaffe. Because
Beuys was against the missions he was ordered to go on, much work has been done to recount his time in the German Air-Force.
On a mission over the Crimea in 1943, located in Russia, his plane was shot down. A group of nomadic people, called Tartars,
found the badly burned Beuys and covered his body in fat and wrapping him in felt. The fat, used as a save to protect him
from bacteria, became a symbol for medicine and a rebirth. Similarly, the felt, used to warm and act as a cocoon to protect
him, became a symbol for protection. Ever-present elements in his early works. The Tartar’s turned the wounded Beuys
over to the British, who held him in a P.O.W. camp until 1946.
Facing death forced Beuys to re-evaluate the priorities of his life. The focus
of life became art. He began his formal art training at the Art Academy of Düsseldorf under Joseph Enseling
and Ewald Mataré. He quickly began to gain collectors and exhibitions. By 1961 he was a professor
of monumental sculpture in Düsseldorf. He loved being a teacher. Soon he was becoming an important part of the Fluxus Movement.
The movement centers on an any-media product, usually somewhat minimalist, that is part crazy Dada, part German Bauhaus design,
and part oriental flair. The art goes beyond art, to include philosophical, sociological, scientific, as well as other what
most would see as non-art ideas into the artworks. The Fluxus Movement truly helped Germany recover from World War 2 and the
things that were done in Germany to derail its artistic growth. Beuys was a major part of Germany’s artistic recovery.
Beuys saw self as teacher first. After being fired from the Art Academy, he
founded the Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research in 1973. Throughout his time as an
instructor he was extremely productive as an artist, again, preferring to use fat ans felt as his primary media, one example
is Homogeneous Infiltration for Grand Piano (Infiltration Homogen
für Konzertflügel). (The artwork can be seen at the bottom of this page in a photo I took at the Georges Pompidou
Center in Paris). In the work the piano become a metaphor for human communication. But in its present situation, the message
would be silenced. Through this artwork, Beuys is telling us (through the title) that the piano is the same functional piano
we have seen before, only under this felt (it is homogeneous). Communication for the piano is not currently possible under
the felt. If we look at the piano like it’s a person, it becomes easier to understand: when people look into themselves
(infiltrate ourselves) we can begin to heal. The healing will release us from the things that restrict our voices and let
our creativity and thoughts come into the world unmuffled. It is a healing understood by his fellow Germans after World War
2. “Let's talk of a system that transforms all the social organisms into a work of art, in which
the entire process of work is included... something in which the principle of production and consumption takes on a form of
quality. It's a Gigantic project.”
Infiltration for Grand Piano
felt, leather. 39 x 60 x 94 inches. Georges Pompidou Center, Paris, France.