Joseph Beuys

Beuys is recognised as one of the most influential artists of the late twentieth century. Adopting the roles of political and social activist and educator, his philosophy proposed the healing power and social function of art for all.

From the 1950s onwards, many of his works are made from a distinctive group of materials, in particular felt, fat and copper. These were chosen for their insulating, conductive, protective, transmitting and transforming properties. Animals of all kinds appear in his work, but he was particularly drawn to stags, bees and hares. A childhood interest in the natural sciences remained with him throughout his life, fuelling a desire to explore themes and experiment with the properties of materials.

Joseph Beuys Battery 1959
Joseph Beuys Schwangere und Schwan [Pregnant Woman with Swan] 1959

Beuys produced a vast body of work that includes performance, drawing, print-making, sculpture and installation. His complex, interlocking themes cover science, myth, history, medicine and energy. Beuys’ own image and life story is inextricably linked to his work through his persona of the Shaman, shepherd or stag-leader.

This group of works covers forty years of Beuys's career. Included are nature-based drawings of the 1950s, images and scores recording 1960s 'actions' and later installations, in addition to sculptures and vitrines. The collection brings together drawings with sculpture from the 1960s like the iconic Fat Chair, and images relating to Actions and installations like Coyote and Show Your Wound. It culminates with the sculpture Scala Napoletana which was made only a few months before the artist's death, and relates to the theme of communication with the beyond.

Joseph Beuys Scala Napoletana 1985