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Joseph Beuys

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Vital Dates:
Born: 12 May 1921
Died: 23 January 1986


Joseph Beuys was born in Krefeld, Germany in 1921. In 1940 he began his education in preparatory medical studies, but then volunteered for the German air force to avoid the draft. Despite being seriously wounded numerous times, he remained in active duty until 1945 when he became a prisoner-of-war in a British camp. On his return from the war Beuys abandoned his plans for a career in medicine and enrolled in the Düsseldorf Academy of Art to study sculpture. During the early 1960s he became acquainted with the experimental work of artists such as the Fluxus group and Nam June Paik, whose merging of the boundaries between visual art, literature, music, performance, and everyday life became a catalyst for Beuys’ own ideas about the role of art in society, and his performances, which he called "actions." He became a Professor of Sculpture at Dusseldorf Academy in 1961 and founded Fluxus Zone West in 1968. He exhibited his work in solo and group shows throughout Europe and in New York, incorporating ritualized movement and sound, and materials such as fat, felt, earth, honey, blood, and even dead animals. Beuys was also actively engaged in politics, founding the German Student Party in 1967, and the Non-Voting Free Referendum Party in 1970. He ran in the 1976 German elections, as a candidate for the Joint Action Party for Independent Germans, and again in 1978 as a candidate for the Green Party. His unconventional art style, and his public call for reform earned Beuys international notoriety, but he was dismissed from his teaching position in 1972 as the result of his insistence that admission to the art school be open to anyone who wished to study there. He died in Düsseldorf in 1986.

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