Joseph Beuys Ohne Titel
Joseph Beuys, Ohne Titel (Untitled), 1983

Vitrines

Selected and arranged by Beuys, these vitrines bring together found objects, small sculptures, props from his Actions, and artworks made in series as multiples. The glass cases favoured by Beuys are redolent of a museum, suggesting a collection of archaeological relics or scientific samples. Each case comprises a mini-environment, bringing out connections between the disparate objects. Many of the vitrines follow particular themes, and can be seen as anthologies of some of Beuys’s personal obsessions.

One vitrine, for example, includes a number of objects that contain fat, one of Beuys’s most characteristic sculptural materials. Double Objects (1974-79) includes two of each item, a fascination with the double that appears throughout his work.

Joseph Beuys Ausfegen

Joseph Beuys, Ausfegen (Sweeping Up), 1972–85

René Block Collection in deposit of Neues Museum in Nürnberg
Photo credit: Annette Kradisch
© DACS 2005

An exception to the usually orderly arrangements of objects isSweeping Up (1972/85). The contents of this case originate in an action performed by Beuys in 1972. Following the left-wing May Day parade in Berlin, Beuys and two students used a bright red broom to sweep up all the rubbish in Karl-Marx-Platz. This gesture of making a clean start reflected Beuys’s dissatisfaction with the dogmas of Marxism, as much as with Western capitalism.

      Politics 

Beuys was actively involved in politics, participating in demonstrations, organising sit-ins, lecturing on democracy, and even standing as a candidate in elections for the Green Party. He was a passionate believer in democracy, and criticised the West German government for compromising its supposed democratic principles. He was equally vociferous in condemning the oppressive Communism of East Germany, as represented by the Berlin Wall.

In 1971, Beuys founded the Organisation for Direct Democracy through Referendum, a forum for discussion and experimentation that worked toward the realisation of a true democracy. The following year he helped to establish the Free International University, which aimed to foster creativity beyond the walls of traditional academia. By now, his political activities and his work as an artist were closely intertwined. He formulated a theory of ‘social sculpture’, exploring ways in which the creative impulse that shaped a work of art could also influence the world in which we live. He believed that everyone should be involved in this process because we all possess a latent creativity, hence his motto ‘Everyone is an artist’.