The Essential Joseph Beuys provides a definitive survey of the artist’s oeuvre in every medium – drawings and watercolours, sculptures and objects, environments and actions, multiples and printed works – revealing the multifaceted creativity, formal inventiveness and wide conceptual range of an artist who has still not been adequately illuminated by previous assessments of him as a sculptor, teacher and revolutionary.
Beuys challenged the traditional narrow confines of art to embrace a much broader, philosophically based political practice, formulated in the dictum ‘Everyone is an artist’. His long-term, radical aims included the introduction of direct democracy through referendum, free access to all educational institutions and a restructuring of the economy based on ecological necessity.
Arranged chronologically, this overview reflects the changes in Beuy’s choice of register, from the soliloquy in his early days at Cleves to dialogue during his period as a teacher in Düsseldorf to the powerful language of public lectures for an international audience in later years. His unique poetic approach to the creative process transforms such materials as felt, fat, honey, blood, wax, copper and sulphur into ever more fluent and unlimited artistic forms.
In a broad-ranging discussion, Alain Borer summarizes Beuy’s oeuvre, drawing out themes of extreme complexity with admirable clarity and revealing the versatility and profundity of one of the most important and original artists of the 20th century.