Paik enjoyed a long and productive friendship with the German artist Joseph Beuys. In 1959 Beuys attended Paik’s first public performance, Hommage à John Cage, and the two met a year later in Düsseldorf at an exhibition opening. In 1963 Beuys famously smashed a piano into pieces at Paik’s first solo exhibition. Their artistic collaborations and close comradeship continued until Beuys’s death in 1986.
Both Paik and Beuys believed in the power of art to shape a better society, and sought to establish a direct connection with audiences through ‘actions’ and performances. They also shared a keen interest in shamanism, emphasising the role of artist as healer and mediator, as seen in the live satellite concert on which they collaborated in 1984, Good Morning, Mr Orwell. Although their artistic practices were very different, they were both responding, in their art, to the early effects on their lives of the destruction and trauma of war.
Their influence on a younger generation of artists was significant through their teaching at the Düsseldorf Art Academy. In 1978, Paik and Beuys performed a piano duet at the Academy as part of a memorial event for Fluxus founder George Maciunas.