Thursday, October 26, 2006

Art Actions

Joseph Beuys is an interesting individual. He was born in 1921 in Germany and volunteered for the war in 1940. He was trained as a pilot an an aircraft radio operator. He was wounded several times and was held in a prisoner of war camp in Britain for some time.

After the war, he studied art, specifically sculpture. Many of his sculptural pieces were made of felt and hard fat. Beuys often attributed his attraction to felt and fat by describing a story (which may or may not have happened) where he was rescued by Tartars after a plane crash and they smeared his body with fat and covered it in felt to keep him warm.

Beuys felt that art should not be just about "objects" or things that were "beautiful." He felt that debate, confrontation and performance were all forms of art. Eventually, Beuys began to create performance art that he called "actions." He wanted to provoke people and make them think.

One of the most famous of these is called I like America and America likes me, where he covered himself in felt and spent five days in a room with a live coyote. Another interesting piece is Explaining Pictures to a Dead Hare, where he went through a gallery with a dead hare, speaking to it about the pictures on the wall. He was also covered in honey and gold leaf for this performance.

Beuys' art was never meant to be mainstream: he didn't produce many sculptures that a collector could buy and keep as a trophy. Instead, his art was mainly time-based and what we have left from his "actions" are artifacts of the experience: photos of Beuys with the coyote, for example.

One of his quotes that makes the best sense of Beuys' perspective on art is this:
"To make people free is the aim of art, therefore art for me is the science of freedom."
-Joseph Beuys

Sources: Joseph Beuys: A Brief Biography, The Artchive: Joseph Beuys

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