Culture

Beuys film depicts artist as laughing revolutionary

Joseph Beuys with students in the ring talk at the State Academy of Fine Arts, Düsseldorf, 1967. Photo by Ute Klophaus © zeroonefilm/ bpk ErnstvonSiemensKunststiftung StiftungMuseumSchlossMoyland

BERLIN: A documentary about German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys has wowed the audience at its world premiere in Berlin, depicting him as a creative wizard and provocative prankster who enjoyed challenging traditional thinking about art, politics and money. Directed by award-winning filmmaker Andres Veiel, “Beuys” shows the contradictory path of a man who voluntarily joined the Hitler Youth and fought in World War II, only to become one of Germany’s most experimental artists and a vocal proponent of self-determination and grassroots democracy.

“I was very interested in showing his wounds and trauma as being connected to his energy,” Veiel told Reuters Wednesday. “You can only understand Beuys if you realize that [in life] he sped toward the abyss like a stuka fighter just to pull up in the nick of time before the plane crashes and he hits the ground. It is this energy that kept him fighting in life.” During wartime, Beuys indeed survived a fighter jet crash in Crimean.

Based on archive footage, audio recordings, interviews and photos, the film sheds light on the question why sculptures like “Fat Chair,” 1964, were ridiculed in Germany but celebrated in an exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.

It shows how German critics try to make sense of Beuys, his concept of art and his light-hearted approach of doing things differently – as demonstrated in his ground-breaking mass tree-planting installation “7000 Oaks” for the Documenta exhibition in 1982.

In one of his first installations, Beuys is seen talking to a dead hare on his arm, explaining pictures to the lifeless animal and petting the furry body behind a shopping window. Spectators watch the artist, topped by his trademark hat, with a mixture of disbelief and amusement.

“Do you want a revolution without laughter?” Beuys asks an art critic during a television show. “I don’t!”

Veiel said he was fascinated by Beuys’ political thinking and visionary power – warning as far back as the 1980s that money was becoming a fetish and that financial speculation could undermine democracy. The artist died in 1986.

“He was way ahead of his time,” Veiel said during a news conference for his film. “He basically saw it all coming – the financial crisis and the crisis of capitalism.”

In 2001, Veiel won the European Film Award for “Black Box Germany,” a documentary about the assassination of former Deutsche Bank boss Alfred Herrhausen and the police shooting of Wolfgang Grams, a member of the RAF militant group.

“Beuys” is the only documentary among the 18 films that compete for the Golden and Silver Bears at this year’s Berlinale.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on February 17, 2017, on page 16.

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