Hundred years of Joseph Beuys

(1921, Krefeld – 1986, Düsseldorf)

The best known but also most controversial artist in post-World War II Germany is without a doubt, Joseph Beuys. With his equally famous and misunderstood statement "Jeder Mensch ist ein Künstler" (every person is an artist) and his views on a "social sculpture", he placed art in the widest possible context. Spiritual development, awareness and social change formed the stakes of his artistry that even extended as far as the establishment of an alternative political party in 1967.

Joseph Beuys' oeuvre includes drawings as well as sculptures and installations, but he became especially famous for his performances in which he depicted transitional situations and transformation processes. Beuys often used felt and fat to depict those situations and processes. Felt as a symbol for warmth and security and fat as a substance that changes from solid to flowing under the influence of temperature change. This had to do with a penetrating experience as a pilot in World War II: Beuys crashed in the Crimea and Tatars saved his life by smearing him with grease and wrapping him in felt. Whether this story is based on truth is part of the mythology surrounding the charismatic Beuys.

Postcard: Bonnefanten. Card no 14. Edition Staeck, Heidelberg, 1975; no P 23, see multiple 1977.

Joseph Beuys in Maastricht

Driven by students from the Jan van Eyck Academie and the artists' initiative Agora Studio, Maastricht was a focal point of artistic experiment within performances, body art and video events in the early 1970s. In 1975, Joseph Beuys came from nearby Düsseldorf to Maastricht to explain his radical ideas. In the Bonnefanten monastery - the former housing and namesake of this museum - he gave a lecture, there was a discussion and in a side room the artist presented an overview of his printed work from the period 1960-1975. The day after the event, Beuys signed all the documents present - including many posters of performances and political events - and donated them to the Bonnefanten. By signing them, Beuys gave the documents a place in his oeuvre and once again underlined the importance of his societal role as an artist.

The value of the collection of the Beuys signed printed works lies not only in its completeness and in the rarity of much of the prints. This Beuys donation also laid the foundation for today's Bonnefanten. The museum is socially involved and consciously opts for an intensive collaboration with socially involved artists in the form of solo exhibitions, special collection presentations and in the realization of new work.

The presence of Joseph Beuys in Maastricht has been immortalized by a postcard from 1975, one of the many small printed works that the artist published in large editions. Pictured are Joseph Beuys with a pram accompanied by the Antwerp diamond dealer, art collector and friend Isi Fiszman. This postcard was followed up on two years later. Beuys made a multiple of a number of sheets that were rejected for technical reasons, each of which had four cards printed on it. Two hundred numbered and signed copies were provided with a text in handwriting, "wer nicht denken will fliegt raus", and the texts Bonnefanten across all four images. The museum acquired the multiple in 1993.

Text: Paula van den Bosch

Look at all the Joseph Beuys artworks in our collection