Joseph Beuys was born May 12, 1921, in Krefeld, Germany.
During his school years in Kleve, Beuys was exposed to the work of
Achilles Moortgat, whose studio he often visited, and was inspired by the
sculptures of Wilhelm Lehmbruck. Beuys began to study medicine in 1940,
but his studies were interrupted when he joined the army and served as a
fighter pilot. During a mission in 1943, he was badly injured when his
plane crashed in a desolate region of south Russia. This experience would
resonate in all of his later work.
After the war, he decided to dedicate his life to art.
In 1947, he registered at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Dusseldorf, where
he studied under Joseph Enseling and Ewald Matare. After Beuys graduated
in 1951, the brothers Franz Joseph and Hans van der Grinten began to
collect his work. Eventually becoming his most important patrons, they
organized his first solo show at their house in Kranenburg in 1953. Beuys
was appointed professor of monumental sculpture at the Staatliche
Kunstakademie Dusseldorf in 1961. The year after, he began to associate
artists, principally Nam June Paik and George Maciunas, and later he met
Minimalist artist Robert Morris. He helped to organize the Festum Fluxorum
Fluxus at the Staatliche Kunstakademie Dusseldorf in 1963, and he
participated for the first time in Documenta in Kassel in 1964.
In 1967, Beuys founded the German Student Party, one of
the numerous political groups that he organized during the next decade. In
1972, he was dismissed from the Staatliche Kunstakademie Dusseldorf amid
great controversy for admitting to his class over 50 students who
previously had been rejected. The following year, he founded the Free
International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research. He
increasingly became involved in political activities and in 1976 ran for
the German Bundestag. In 1978, he was made a member of the Akademie der
Kunst, Berlin. The 1970s were also marked by numerous exhibitions
throughout Europe and the United States. Beuys represented Germany at the
Venice Biennale in 1976 and 1980. A retrospective of his work was
held at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, in 1979. He was made a
member of the Royal Academy of Fine Arts, Stockholm, in 1980. During the
inauguration of the 1982 Documentain Kassel, Beuys planted the
first of 7,000 oak trees; in other cities, he repeated this tree-planting
action several times in the following years. In January 1986, the artist
received the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Prize in Duisburg. On January 23, 1986,
Beuys died in Dusseldorf.