The sacred mission of Joseph Beuys

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Posted on July 30, 2020 at 2:00 p.m.

On March 16, 1944, a Luftwaffe bomber went on a mission to the Eastern Front. While flying over the Crimea, he was shot down. The pilot died instantly. Joseph Beuys, the rear gunner, is found, buried in the snow, by Tatar nomads. To preserve her warmth, they cover her body with fat, then wrap her in the felt. A rebirth, which will condition his whole life. On this meeting, the artist in the eternal felt hat built his work. The alchemical relationship to the elements, resurrection by nature … Everything is already in the first pages of this hallucinatory initiatory novel, which will make him one of the greatest plastic artists of the post-war period, an ardent pioneer of ecology. From this original scene is born the pagan mystique which he will bring to the incandescence in his sculptures, installations and performances.

But is the account of this enlightenment true? The accident did take place. All his life, Beuys suffered from the stigma of his head injury. But, he admits sometimes, he did not regain his senses until the hospital where he was then treated. The Tatar sorcerers? They probably never existed. After all, what does it matter? Without this ur-myth, this founding myth, who knows what would have become of the young soldier, raised by his own admission in the ardor of the Hitler Youth? Through this story of death and redemption, Beuys saves himself, and sees himself as the chosen one of fate.

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“He builds his character, works on his appearances and considers himself a living sculpture, analyzes the art historian Nathalie Daniel-Risacher. In his eyes, each living being is in itself a potential work, and Beuys the first who, with his body, his face, his life, puts on an eternal scene ”. Mystical crisis? Not in the strict sense of the word. Beuys did not see the virgin, he was not suddenly struck by the wisdom of Buddha.

Postapocalypse Shaman

But the one who will participate in the founding of the Grünen party in 1980, has built, from this imaginary rite, a new mystic of nature, heir to German romanticism. “In Germany, which was emerging from Nazism, Joseph Beuys effectively captured the attention of the public and the media by revisiting the disaster, complements art historian Laurence Bertrand-Dorléac. His spectacular return only makes sense in memory of the world of violence in which he himself had participated: he now took care of renewing the artistic and political scene by identifying himself with the figure of Christ, in a process of expiation which, in the distorted romantic tradition, charges the artist with a sacred mission. “

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