Kathryn had the day off work today — so we decided to pop over to Leeds to take in some culture. The City centre Gallery had benefited from a refurb and we were pleased to see that Joseph Beuys was the artist featured in the ARTIST ROOMS in the gallery. Not that I knew much about him before I arrived.
“Joseph Beuys (1921-1986) was one of the twentieth century’s most important and revolutionary cultural figures, who changed the look and meaning of sculpture forever. A political and social activist and educator, Beuys believed in the healing power and social function of art. He saw creativity as central to all aspects of human existence, declaring that ‘everyone is an artist’.”
I appreciate I may not be the most qualified of chaps to comment on the artist, Beuys, output. So, if you have anything different to say please leave a comment in the footer of this post. However, I went to an exhibition and this is my blog — so I will write about the exhibition.
But what did I make to the above art and, inevitably, the artist’s take on life: I loved it. I believe Beuys was trying to merge the Scientific and the Spiritual through his sculptures and, personally, I think he challenged the way people see the world after being exposed to his art.
I know it has for me.
The materials he used were not the most palatable of choice for me — lots of materials that set my teeth on edge: felt & fat being two choice examples. But I love the symbolism of what he was hoping his viewer would get. Like Shakyamuni’s finger pointing towards the moon, the works I saw in Leeds today spoke of wider memes and counterpoints to the global psyche of the latter part of the twentieth century. I actually, for the first time in my life, think I got an art exhibition!
Beuys was instrumental in the founding of the German Green Party and used his profile as an artist to speak out for the disenfranchised and dispossessed. He actively campaigned for environmental issues and befriended a coyote. Were his works aesthetically appealing? No. In short, I believe his point was to provoke and administer a revolution of the individual. To overthrow our self-imposed rulers and set our selves free to be who we want to be.
After a bit of research into Beuys when I got home I read this about his choice of the before-mentioned materials: in 1942, Beuys was stationed in the Crimea and was a member of various combat bomber units. From 1943 on he was deployed as rear-gunner in the Ju 87 “Stuka” dive-bomber, initially stationed in Königgrätz, later in the eastern Adriatic region. On 16 March 1944, Beuys’s plane crashed on the Crimean Front close to Znamianka. From this incident, Beuys fashioned the myth that he was rescued from the crash by nomadic Tatar tribesmen, who had wrapped his broken body in animal fat and felt and nursed him back to health:
“Had it not been for the Tartars I would not be alive today. They were the nomads of the Crimea, in what was then no man’s land between the Russian and German fronts, and favoured neither side. I had already struck up a good relationship with them and often wandered off to sit with them.” — Joseph Beuys
Was Beuys an artist or a revolutionary … or a healer? I cannot answer that & I will leave the answer to those who knew him best. Either way, his work has left an impression on this peasant. I see him as someone who used the tools at his disposal, what he was good at, as a way of effecting long-lasting social change. Whether he was successful or not, I doubt it — but it has made me want to take up the baton for improving the self for the sake of others.