Felt, fat and wild animals: Introducing Joseph Beuys’s Art

In the
previous article we got acquainted with the oeuvre of Joseph Beuys,
particularly with his philosophy of art and its functions. His personal myth
and believes in active social and political position of art required action.
And action he took. Let’s see some of his most iconic works.

Infiltration for Grand Piano (1966)

installation is a final product of Beuys’s performance called “Homogenous Infiltration
for Grand Piano”. This performance was a discussion of the scandalous at that
time prescription drug that caused a line of side effects, including the
birth of handicapped infants. And the most common mutilation was the absence of
hands. Comparing that with the piano, wrapped in felt with the a red cross
painted on it, we instantly imagine that somebody could have being playing it. Beuys discussed not only this
pharmaceutical case, but also the role of an artist as a healer, that could cure
society’s and people’s wounds. During his early years, Beuys was interested in
music and played piano and cello. He carried this passion throughout the
decades. So in this work we clearly can see the mixture of personal and public
experience, which is a distinctive feature of all Beuys’s oeuvre.

How to
Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare (1965)

In this
performance documented above Beuys was using some organic and, of course,
symbolic materials such as gold leaf,
honey, felt, iron, fir tree, his own drawings. Viewers could see him through
the window of the gallery. In the small room, he was carrying the main star of
this show, dead hare, and making some points about his art works. This somewhat shocking
act stood for the discourse between life, death and art, where Joseph Beuys
himself was a type of the shamanic mediator between all of the topics and a
viewers. The act stood on the edge of the sacrificing practices of some ancient
cultures and the act of resurrection with the help of art. Again, we can
observe the concept of healing artist, and the new one – an artists as a

I Like America
And America Likes Me (1974)

This is
considered as one of the most iconic projects of Joseph Beuys. He planned the
whole thing – he shouldn’t have met anyone on his way to America. He was picked
up by the ambulance (the red cross and healing topics), wrapped in the felt and
transported to the airport. He spent the whole flight in such position, swathed
in cloth, and maintained a horizontal body position. In the US he was also
picked up by the ambulance and never stepped onto the actual American soil. He
didn’t encounter anybody, besides a special guest of the Rene Block Gallery in
New York, where they were heading. And this special guest was an American coyote.
This was not a random choice; the animal considered as a native American inhabitant
and was essential for the spiritual practices of indigenous peoples. The artist
spent 3 days in a small room with coyote, doing some shamanic acts and making a
connection with the wild creature. On the floor there were fresh issues of The
Wall Street Journal, which were used as a substitute for a litter box.
Eventually, coyote became friendly with Beuys, allowed petting and overall
behaved as a dog. Beuys returned home in the same way and never spoke to
anybody in the country. That is the story of great Beuys befriending the great

Fat Chair

This is a
bright example of Beuys’s sculpture. Made of the organic materials, the chair
was put in a glass structure with the temperature control. Over the years, it had
been slowly decaying. The elegant metaphor of a human body and its ephemeral
state, as well as the self-reflection and the importance of energy exchange.
Energy is a key ingredient in this work, as well as in many others.

So we’ve come closer to the wonderful universe
of Joseph Beuys’s art. The essentials for him are the fundamental ideas and
acute social issues, combined with his personal mythology and spiritual practices.
Multiply this by the ecological concerns and brilliant teaching skills, and you
will get one of the most powerful, active and mythical artists of 20th century.

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