Life In Berlin: Andres Veiel And The Revival of Joseph Beuys' Art

Feb 18, 2017

Writer and director Andres Veiel describes Joseph Beuys as a very German artist

"And at the same time, he is very un-German because of his humor; because of his self irony."

30 years after his death, Beuys' work and ideas are revived by Andres Veiel in an extensive chronicle. His documentary Beuys just premiered at the Berlinale film festival.

Joseph Beuys in the planting of "7000 Oaks" at the documenta 7 in Kassel, 1982.
Credit Dieter Schwerdtle/documenta Archiv/Zero One Film

"It was for me like an inciting moment when I saw two or three films of him. He was talking about money flow," says Veiel. "I was wondering, this artist of fat and felt, is talking about economic questions, and he was describing in a way the structures of a financial crisis."

Veiel went through hundreds of hours of video and audio. His documentary consists largely of archival footage showing the groundbreaking artist in action: Beuys explaining pictures to a dead hare, sharing space with a coyote for several days in a New York gallery, campaigning for Germany’s Green Party, or planting trees for his Gesamtkunstwerk "7000 Oaks" at the documenta in ’82. Beuys' concern and interest in people participation and democracy resonate with the issues of today.

"He always said - even when you think about his materials - if the structures get stiff, if there is not a movement by a warm element, people get stuck without a possibility to bring in their own necessities," Veiel says.

Beuys was a controversial figure, dismissed of his professorship at the Art Academy in Düsseldorf when he accepted applicants who had been turned down. At one point, his class exceeded 400 students.

"Some people called him naive. He was really believing by his presence - by his work of art - that he would in the very end reach even somebody who is lost in other spheres, of scapegoating, of fighting for new walls," says Veiel

“Some people called him naive. He was really believing by his presence, by his work of art that he would in the very end reach even somebody who is lost in other spheres, of scapegoating, of fighting for new walls.”

Joseph Beuys in Holland, 1975.
Credit Caroline Tisdall/Zero One Film

Veiel says Joseph Beuys talked to everybody; he didn’t exclude. The director hopes his documentary is not viewed as simply a tribute to a great artist, but that it inspires people.

"Creating new things, going on, not just celebrating a hero of the last century, that’s not the idea. Taking the energy and [doing] something for the next century.'

And it looks like the art and ideas of Beuys, the man in the felt hat, have indeed inspired a new generation and are being reinterpreted. Just last month, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago announced plans to remount Beuys' "7000 Oaks" as a citywide youth program to address urban violence.