ABOUT THIS BOOK
Joseph Beuys is one of the most important and controversial German artists of the late twentieth century, an artist whose persona and art is so tightly interwoven with Germany’s fascist past—Beuys was, after all, a former soldier in the Third Reich—that he has been a problematic figure for postwar and post-reunification Germany. In illuminating the centrality of trauma and the sustained investigation of the notion of art as the two defining threads in Beuys's life and art, this book offers a critical biography that deepens our understanding of his many works and their contribution.
Claudia Mesch analyzes the aspects of Beuys’s works that have most offended audiences, especially the self-woven legend of redemption that many have felt was a dubious and inappropriate fantasy for a former Nazi soldier to engage. As she argues, however, Beuys’s self-mythology confronted post-traumatic life head on, foregrounding a struggle for psychic recovery. Following Beuys’s exhibitions in the 1970s, she traces how he both expanded the art world beyond the established regional centers and paved the way for future artists interested in activism-as-art. Exploring Beuys’s expansive conceptions of what art is and following him into the realms of science, politics, and spirituality, Mesch ultimately demonstrates the ways that his own myth-making acted as a positive force in the Germany’s postwar reckoning with its past.