Joseph Beuys

1921 in Krefeld – 1986 in Düsseldorf


Festival der Neuen Kunst, TH Aachen 20. Juli 1964, Rekonstruktion einer Aktion

The actions are the focus of Joseph Beuys’ artistic work. Here he combines all genres and media: objects, language, noise, actions. A particular action took place on July 20, 1964, in the Audimax in Aachen. The place was filled to capacity with around 800 curious students. It was the cultural advisor of the AStA, Valdis Āboliņš, who had the idea for the Festival der Neuen Kunst. Together with the artist Tomas Schmit from Cologne, the already well-known international Fluxus artists Eric Andersen, Bazon Brock, Stanley Brouwn, Henning Christiansen, Robert Filliou, Ludwig Gosewitz, Arthur Koepcke, Wolf Vostell, and Emmett Williams were invited to the imperial city. When it came to the organization of the evening, the protagonists were guaranteed complete freedom for the realization of their contributions. 

Up to that point, culture had played a secondary role at the University in Aachen. The international art movement “Fluxus” was an alien phenomenon to the students of engineering. The young academics who attended the event were outraged by the politically motivated lectures and actions, some of which addressed the historically relevant date of July 20,1944 (especially the contributions by Bazon Brock, who quoted Joseph Goebbels’ Sportpalast speech, and Wolf Vostell, who re-enacted an execution scene). Failing to understand the artistic performances, the audience in the front rows stormed the stage at a certain point. In the general turmoil, a student punched Joseph Beuys in the face, who then presented his bloody nose to the booing audience. Shortly afterward, the event had to be called off. Subsequently, the Arbeitskreis 20. Juli 1944 filed charges against the organizers and artists of the evening for gross mischief and disparagement of the memory of the deceased – but the case was dropped later. The artistic interventions were not well received by the lecturers and most of their students, many of whom voiced criticism and a conservative opinion. Joseph Beuys’ action on that evening has been the most frequently described in academic research. The performance consisted of several cryptic scenes that allowed plenty of room for interpretation. Initially, Beuys had intended to play a piece by Erik Satie on the piano, but it is said that he threw OMO washing powder, then paper scraps, cigarette packets, various spices, and a postcard of the Aachen Cathedral into the musical instrument first. Then he set the body of the piano into vibrations by using an electric drill. According to Bazon Brock, Beuys was not interested in destruction, but in a new form of sound production. In this performance, as in all subsequent actions, the artist Joseph Beuys always focused on transformation, as it happens, for example, when fat is heated on a cooker. This early performance already addressed energy processes, which for Beuys also included the violent response of the audience as an act of release.