Statement for Indire(ct) Democracy
By Dimitris Halatsis
It is certain that the life and work of Joseph Beuys (J.B.) constitutes an important moment in the history of modern art; a moment that affected the development of modern art considerably.
J.B.’s entire artistic course, however, has been based on a myth. The myth he created after his fall from an airplane, around the area of Crimea. There, he was “…rescued by nomadic Tartars who rubbed him with fat and wrapped him in felt to heal and warm his body.” * J.B. himself had claimed that this had as a result to become obsessed with fat and felt, but also to constantly feel as material for a sculpture.
While the story appears to have little grounding in real events (Beuys himself downplayed its importance in a 1980 interview), its poetics are strong enough to have made the story one of the most enduring aspects of his mythic biography.
This myth was one of the myths that post-war West Germany not only needed but also promoted with special care so as to be restored fast and to “recover” morally after its traumatic experience of Nazism.
J.B.’s work is a mosaic of contradictions, amongst which are folk myths from the German tradition, Romanticism, anthroposophy, Christianity, as well as the political, social and artistic avant-garde notions and views represented by the movements of his time.
“Regardless” of J.B.’s own intentions, his work functioned as a Think Tank for the dominant ideology of the era that put him on the spotlight and gave him acclaim – an ideology that managed to a great degree to manipulate and guide all kinds of problematic avant-guarde, including J.B.’s work.
Joan Rothfuss (Walker Art Center curator). Joseph Beuys. A Brief Biography.
Benjamin H.D Buchloh. “Beuys: The Twilight of the Idol”, in Artforum, 5, (18), Jan.1980, pp.35–43
Peter Nisbet. “Crash Course. Remarks on a Beuys Story”, in Gene Ray’s Joseph Beuys. Mapping the Legacy. New York and Sarasota (FL), D.A.P/John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, 2001, pp.5-17