Joseph Beuys

German (1921 - 1986)
Joseph Beuys Fettstuhl [Fat Chair] 1964 - 1985 © DACS 2017.


Born 1921
Died 1986
Nationality German
Birth place Krefeld
Death place Düsseldorf

German artist Beuys believed that art was integral to everyday life. His own art was shaped by an experience early in his life. As a Luftwaffe pilot during the war, Beuys was shot down over the Crimea and was saved by nomadic Tartars. Barely alive, he was wrapped in felt and fat which preserved his body heat, and taken to safety on sledges pulled by dogs. This incident, and these particular elements, informed much of his art, which has a redemptive, mystical and ritualistic character. Central to his work were his 'Actions', which involved teaching, audience discussion and performance. The recurrent themes were social and political. Associated with the ecological movement - he was a founder member of the Green Party - he also had a strong influence on German politics.

Glossary terms

  • A collective of international artists formed in 1960 by the artist George Maciunas. Their name means ‘flowing’ in Latin, and they aimed to break down barriers between art and life by staging avant-garde musical performances and anti-art events which closely involved the public. A socially-motivated group, they promoted an inclusive and collective spirit and were opposed to the functionless art object and the ego-driven artist. Among the various group members were Joseph Beuys, Nam June Paik, John Cage, Daniel Spoerri and Yoko Ono.

  • A technique in which paper or canvas is placed over a grainy surface and rubbed with a crayon or charcoal. This was often used by Surrealist artists to create chance effects. From the French word ‘frotter’, meaning ‘to rub’.

  • Works in which the actions of the artist constitute the art. Artists have used performance techniques throughout the 20th century but the term is usually applied to works from the 1960s onwards.