Interviews: André Müller

Joseph Beuys, Plight Installation, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London 1985

Joseph Beuys, Plight Installation, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London 1985

You are a very sociable person. Do you sometimes need loneliness to think in peace?

JOSEPH BEUYS: I try to share this thinking, which is really very important, with others in general. You may know that I have also started various organisations, for example the Free International University, where I am in constant contact with other people.

Where do you think the popular idea comes from that the artist is a person who needs loneliness to create?

BEUYS: I think it is a very bourgeois concept of art that transports something like that, which stamps the artist as lonely. You probably want to keep him away with such a thesis. This thing about the lonely artist does not emanate so much from the artist himself, but results from a crowding-out effect that one wants to keep the artist away from him, because he usually presents things that go against the usual thinking habits. I could imagine that this comes from a social analysis. On the other hand, it must also be said that many artists even love this loneliness, the so-called ivory tower, and see art as an isolated area from the questions that society delivers. There are quite a number of artists who feel quite at home there.

But apart from such a voluntary withdrawal there is also the need to stay away from external influences in order to achieve independent results.

BEUYS: That's right, that's necessary. But it doesn't take very long. There are necessities, you are out of the constellation ... yes, let's say lonely.

When were there such constellations in your life?

BEUYS: That has certainly been more often. You are alluding to the period of crisis that I experienced between 1954 and 1958. It is well known, I have spoken about it several times, but it was not lonely in the true sense, because I worked, just not artistically I worked on agricultural work, that's the area I actually come from, agriculture. I regenerated myself, so I recovered through a different type of work and in this recovery also developed further principles for my artistic work, so that one can say that such crisis situations are very important and also nothing special. Everyone goes through such crises. The only thing that has made me special is that I have redefined and expanded my concept of art during this time. From then on, I saw all of life, including speaking and thinking, as art. *

Before that, you used to follow conventional lines, draw, paint, work as a sculptor.

BEUYS: Yes, and then suddenly I had great concerns about what I was doing. There was a feeling that I had done everything wrong. It all got stuck somewhere and didn't go on. I had come to an extreme end, also physically. I really got sick. Love stories also came along. It always comes together 375 things that lead to such a crisis. Then you ask yourself: Why are you still alive?

Have you tried to commit suicide?

BEUYS: I haven't eaten anything, no liquid, no food, to the point where I was practically dead. Then friends found me, they had been looking for me for months, but I had been in a place where nobody suspected me. Then they just opened the door.

Does that mean you were saved against your will?

BEUYS: I don't know. After all, I was still alive. I didn't eat anything. But that wasn't suicide. Starving is not possible.

Did such crisis situations occur again later?

BEUYS: From the point where I got married, that was in 1959, and until today it hasn't really existed. There have been difficult times, including illnesses, accidents and so on. In Kleve I fell off a scaffold while working and then had to go through quite difficult operations. But there were no more psychological crises after I got married.

It can be concluded from this that, like in so many marriages, your wife acts as a psychological stabiliser.

BEUYS: Maybe.

According to a message from the writer Stella Baum, to whom you were quite close for a while, you used to say rather disparagingly about women. It says that women are not suitable for the production of art.

BEUYS. Oh, that was such a remark, it may well be that I said it because Stella did something that didn't suit me, so I might have told her personally, but that was related to the special case , so no basic statement about the art of women. On the contrary. I think that women are much better at making art than men. Only then you have to have the expanded concept of art, not the traditional one, which is actually mostly used by men.

Do you mean making works?

BEUYS: Yes, the making of works, that was always more a matter for men. But the expanded concept of art, as I understand it, takes place much more in social life, and that is where the woman, I would almost say, has the leading role.

It is, of course, a smart move to apply the concept of art to the social sphere, for example to say that child rearing and health care is art, and then to give women the leading role in this field.

BEUYS: I don't just mean bringing up children with social events. That goes into all areas of interpersonal life.

You owe your fame not to your social work, but to the works you have created.

BEUYS: I never expected anything like fame. If I had even thought about becoming famous for a second, I definitely would not have become it, because then I would have had to speculatively think about how to do something like that. I was demonstrably over forty when I first went public with my things, but that doesn't mean that I had previously worked in a quiet closet. I have always had wild discussions in the Freundeskreis, even during the military period, so I have always regarded the conversation as the only way to keep the machine going. Let us assume that the world is viewed as a vehicle, and I have always considered talking as the only energy to keep it going, even across abysses that open up.

But the talking has only a limited effect. You can't talk to millions of people unless you use the media. But you will only be admitted to it when you are famous, and you have become famous because you managed to accomplish the feat, which is impressive according to the values ​​of our performance society, of collecting several hundred thousand marks for a piece of fat or felt or two rusted beds of corpses.

BEUYS: It's not true that I get it. You far overestimate my earnings if you think I make a lot of money. The greatest work that I have now exhibited in New York, this large sebum sculpture, on which I did not earn a penny. It came about that people approached me in Münster and said I should do a bigger thing there, so I suggested this fat sculpture, but when I calculated the expenses, the amount of animal fat and so on, what by the way, today you throw everything away, where you make soft soap and things like that, there was an order of magnitude, about 700,000 marks would have been necessary, and they immediately said, no, they can't pay that. But I had already worked myself into this so that I said to myself, now you have to see if you can find a sponsor who pays you the material and then gets the job for free. I found this sponsor, a contractor, he owns the job now, but I got nothing for it. People imagine that I know who deserves what, and in reality I don't deserve anything.

That is precisely the bad thing that the art dealers, precisely those people who embody the capitalism you rejected, earn so much from you.

BEUYS: But that's always the case. That is the market mechanism. I can't get over the principle of the art market even if I sell my things myself, so if I have something here, and someone comes in the door and says he'd like that, and I'll give it to him ... yes is it starting.

You could make a contract with him that forbids him to sell the thing to someone else.

BEUYS: I think that this is an inanimate process, it doesn't have a dynamic effect, because you know that things are carried from one hand to the other. So that would be against life.

Yes, against capitalist life, actually completely in your sense. You keep saying you don't want capitalism.

BEUYS: No, I don't want to. But I can't change it. People just try to get money out of everything. It is true that these things that end up in some museums today had already been owned by a number of previous owners, generally six or seven. So that means there are people who might have bought something for ten marks in 1950 or fifty-two, and today that's suddenly worth 25,000 marks.

Yes, isn't that annoying to you?

BEUYS: No, that doesn't bother me at all. It's the same with stamps. It is simply the market mechanism in a capitalist economy. Recently, my worn hats are also being traded. I face it with humour. I knew there was no other way as long as this system existed. I knew that beforehand.

In a nutshell, you work better than anyone else in the very system you are constantly fighting in your speeches and writings. You have become a victim of this system.

BEUYS: No more than you.

Not that, but more spectacular.

BEUYS: All right, okay, more spectacular.

And still your hope of being able to change the system is still there?

BEUYS: I don't need any hope. I don't work with the term hope at all. It's irrational for me. I can afford to give up hope altogether because I see in every corner of reality that it could be turned into something positive, so I see the possibilities, not as a delusion, but quite objectively. I see that if one did this or that one way or the other, the whole apparatus, i.e. the whole organism, would come to life, regenerate itself, completely new principles could be put up for discussion, a new social order could begin, an entirely new one different human future.

I also see the possibilities, but I do not see that they are used. I hope at most.

BEUYS: What you call it is the same. You can call it hope on my behalf. Only this term got such a passive side for me today. Originally, in the Middle Ages, faith, love and hope were organs of knowledge of man. Today hope has become such a strange attitude: Well, it will work somehow, the rescue will come from somewhere, a kind of fatalism, instead of approaching people's problems with active work, whose solution is only in progress comes when you first think about it. So let's just stick to thinking, which is where the strength and freedom in people come from. After all, I am someone who describes the idea in the very visual sense as a sculpture. A person who thinks is creative. My goal is to encourage people to be creative.

But that only works if you confront it with reality as it is and say: So, think of something now. What I observe in you is that you always know the solutions to all questions. I have never found any perplexity on you. So you already have the recipes for all the problems, which leads to you becoming a kind of leading figure that certain people then passively follow.

BEUYS: That would be fatal indeed, because following would mean that people were followers who always chase after one who leads them.

But that's what happens.

BEUYS: It happens occasionally, but it can't last very long, because the followers will quickly learn that they are followers. My life experience is that there is occasionally such a dependency in the sense of a following, but that it is recognised after a short time and that people, at least most of them, then set out for their own lives, often even in such a way that they become opponents.

Opposition is only the other side of the same thing. Whether you are a supporter or opponent, you are always the focal point. One is either against you or for you. It has little to do with independent thinking.

BEUYS: Well, in the current situation it is still the case that camps form, that is correct, in the present it is actually still articulated too little out of the people themselves, from their own point of view or point of view, from their own description of how it should be. But that's not just the case with me, it's the same everywhere. There are many people who are against Franz Josef Strauß and many who are in favour of it, so there are so-called political leaders on whom popular opinion rubs itself. But my contribution is about people becoming self-employed. I just want the opposite of what you accuse me of. The fact that this is not yet getting underway and the whole scenery is changing is simply because it is not possible to pull the whole thing around in such a small piece of the century. This will need time. If people are brought up in the wrong direction for two hundred years, in the sense of following, then one cannot expect self-activity to spread so quickly in thought and action. Perhaps in the present it is still really necessary for people to hold on to a physical appearance, for example, to say: the man with the hat, and to consider my physical appearance as more important than my ideas.

You could easily avoid that by dressing less conspicuously. As a child, were you more of an outsider or someone who had a clique around you?

BEUYS: I think I was both an outsider and always in the middle of the others. Let's say I never kept myself apart, not even as a child. I always had large groups of children around me, but not as a guide, I embodied a certain type. I was tough and got the nickname "Panzer". If there was anything, they would push me forward. You have to remember, it was the time when all these struggles between the parties took place. There were the communists, the steel helmet, the nationalists, the Hitlerites, the church followers. The children saw the grown-ups do this nonsense and then did it on a small scale in the school playground.

Did your parents participate in this party fighting?

BEUYS: No, you could say my parents weren't politically interested. I never really found out what my father chose. He was a very humorous person and had to mess around with everything. He could joke about everything from the right or the left.

In your autobiography you wrote that you were a shepherd with a walking stick, surrounded by an imaginary herd. Did your father think that was funny too?

BEUYS: I think he saw it as a very positive thing, although of course I did it in all secrecy. So I was quite far away from my parents and rarely have been with them. Most of the time I lived with other people.

Many of your later sculptures, the fat and felt objects, including the "honey pump" at the Kassel documenta, were described as symbols of interpersonal warmth or as signals for the absence of this warmth. Is this due to a lack of emotional attention in your childhood?

BEUYS: Not in the form that a psychiatrist would assume. I didn't feel all this cold in my parents' house, but in the time in general, the way people were then, even though it was a very heated time on the outside. It was the age of Expressionism. The people roared easily, were extremely easy to excite, hit each other. In my family, too, this has happened frequently, less between parents, but between aunts and uncles. So that could have been considered heated. But it was still, let's say, a creeping cold in time itself. You could feel it, and it probably influenced me.

When war broke out, you volunteered for the Air Force. What were the reasons?

BEUYS: Firstly, a general interest in technical things, secondly, the desire for adventure also played a role.

Did you want to die heroic death?

BEUYS: No, I definitely wanted to survive.

Then why did you go to the Air Force of all places when the chances of survival are comparatively less?

BEUYS: I just wanted to take the risk and still survive, as I do today, so do something that represents a radical outside position, and still win, assert myself with a thing where you think you have made the right decision. I still believe that it was a sensible decision to volunteer at the time. Some people who know everything so stubbornly today say yes, these national instincts that came up under National Socialism have now been overcome, so they sit on the high horse and say: How could you have volunteered at that time only for the Hitler Army? I see it completely differently.


BEUYS: Well, first of all I see it as a feeling of belonging and solidarity with my peers. I just wanted to share the same fate with them. I didn't want to have an extra sausage, I didn't want to adopt such a cowardly, pacifist attitude. I have always fundamentally opposed emigration. I wanted to be in the middle of the shit the others were in. So I still think that my decision at the time was morally correct.

Did you know the background of the war when you went there?

BEUYS: Of course I knew that everything was a result of the Versailles Treaty. It was clear to me that this contract was an absurdity for Europe and especially for Germany, but of course it was only clear to me in the form in which it was taught to me by my teachers, whom I adore, still adore today. They were all ex-officers, they all had their legs off or their hands somewhere, I don't know, they were badly damaged, mentally, mentally and physically. As a result, they were, of course, very suitable for us children as role models, because you know that children have a lot of imaginations, including devotional and veneration powers. So there was always something going on when they talked about their war adventures.

Would you agree if I described you as a fighter who found it difficult to sit still?

BEUYS: I had to sit still for a long time and often between missions during the fighting. It was not as if you could shoot constantly there. There were big breaks. You either waited in a hole in the ground or in a tent or a horse barrack. Actually, you always waited. Soldiering is basically just a wait before it starts.

Then is it a kind of liberation?

BEUYS: Well, an exemption from waiting, but it's not an exemption in the sense of human freedom. You are placed in a context where you have to think: Do I want to go under or continue to live?

You shouldn't have been involved in the war to such an extent.

BEUYS: Yes, but that was out of the question for me. It is a term of comradeship. That's why I stayed with my comrades until the last day of the war.

This concept of comradeship is very bad today because of the excesses that it has brought. A terrible nonsense came out of it?

BEUYS: I've never seen it like this. I went into life. For me, the war meant: life. I didn't want to stay home in this death zone. I said: I want to have the same fate as my peers. I saw no ethical or moral reason to stay at home with any tricks that could have been started. There was something like this: sticking together for better or for worse.

Did you drop bombs?

BEUYS: Yes, of course, that couldn't be avoided.

So there were dead there?

BEUYS: We never attacked cities like the Americans or the English, only tactical targets, anti-aircraft positions, warships, bridgeheads. But it is likely that there were deaths. Nevertheless, I would like to emphasise here that we never shot into the civilian population or marching troops. When we saw individual Russians, we went up with the machine. I think that was a morality that was within, like an unwritten law. It would have been very easy to launch a deep attack on marching Russians. We have sometimes seen them so close that we could have shot them away from their toilet, that is, from the thunder bar. But there was no such thing. At least, as far as I was an eyewitness, there wasn't, I really have to say that with all honesty here, not even to women. There may have been rapes elsewhere, but where I was there was not. The real atrocities were committed at the desk.

You were wounded a total of five times and received the black, then the gold badge for the wounded. Have you been proud of that?

BEUYS: You can't say that. Such things were accepted with profound pride, but a lot of ironic stuff was talked about. These things got all kinds of names. They were called "Dödel" or "fried egg". They were always described so ironically. None of this was taken that seriously.

What did you feel when you learned the true extent of the hideousness after the war?

BEUYS: It was a shock, for sure, and irreversibly.

Was it anger or grief?

BEUYS: Actually grief, but not paired with resignation, but I immediately started looking for an approach to make up for it on a grand scale. Back then it was particularly necessary to see the possibility of man for good. Without idealism, as you would call it, you would not have been able to do it. Actually, this shock after the end of the war is my first experience, my basic experience, which has led to me even beginning to deal with art, that is, to orientate myself again in the sense of a radical new beginning. I had studied science before the war, and now I made up my mind to break out of this materialistic area of ​science and try a more extensive discipline, of which at the time, though initially only emotionally, I thought it could again be used to describe more in human terms a move center. It was a sensation. At that time I certainly made this decision more out of a feeling, because I saw the whole catastrophe in front of me and read a lot. So that resulted from an inwardness, a feeling that I had.

Did feelings of guilt also play a certain role?

BEUYS: Not feelings of guilt. I felt responsible, but I didn't feel guilty. I have to make a difference so that I can certainly say that I am guilty even today, but I have no feelings of guilt because I couldn't afford them because they would prevent me from pushing the matter forward. Feelings of guilt always have a paralysing effect.

In your biography, with a downright penetrating stubbornness, a certain experience that you should have had in 1942, when you last crashed in the Crimea, is described as a key experience for all of your artistic work. You were found by tartars, greased with grease and packed in felt. Otherwise you would probably have frozen to death. Is there such a direct connection between this event and the materials that you prefer to use for your objects and actions?

BEUYS: No, not at all. At some point I gave such a life story in a catalog for an exhibition, and then someone copied it from the other, and suddenly there was this story. That I was with tartars and that they wrapped me in felt blankets and smeared them with cheese and milk may be true, but I didn't choose the fat and felt objects because they treated me with these substances at the time. That originated quite theoretically. There is this theory of sculpture that I have put up, where the fat appears chaotically and, processed with heat, then flows away or is moved by some actions like in this famous Viennese action, where it ends up in the corners of the room. With this material I wanted to make a statement about what is in the term plastic because I wanted to put this term into its basic components and not just want to adopt it. People kept talking about sculpture, but no one knew what it meant. Then I took very seriously the sentence by Ad Reinhardt, the American painter, who said when asked what a sculpture was: a sculpture is something that you stumble upon when you step back from a painting in the museum. So sculpture was a negative recess in the room for him and nothing else. So I wanted to examine this matter once and analyse it for its basic forces, and this gave rise to the action with the fat and the felt: the felt as an insulator in order to separate certain principles from one another and to look at them separately, like in a laboratory .

Do you realise that, apart from a tiny minority, the people who come into contact with your work understand it completely differently? They think, if they even think in their reluctance at all, about the dripping they use for cooking when it comes to fat.

BEUYS: That's why I have always placed great value on not just making something appear as an image, but the more important part of my actions were the often night-long discussions about why I used this and that material there. In addition, an infinite amount has been written about it.

Nevertheless, I think it is illusory if you think that you can use it to reach broad sections of the population, apart from the fact that you are no longer there for discussions at your exhibitions. You should hear what expressions are used. "Degenerate Art" is still a relatively gentle example.

BEUYS: First of all, I did not become so well known for my objects, but for the fact that I started political actions, that the minister in Düsseldorf kicked me out of the academy ** and I fought against him for seven years and when I won the trial I put my Free International University in the middle of his state institution and then a large number of people, say thousands, came to the conclusion that Beuys actually prevailed at the university against the numerous clauses and campaigned for his students. Who else does this? I live for the thousands at first, not for the millions you may be talking about.

Yes, then you should limit your efficiency to a few thousand. But you have long since become a household name for millions, namely the epitome of what modern art is, and these millions are rather uncomprehending to you. The gap between what the people think is art and what is fetching the highest prices on the art market today is enormous.

BEUYS: Right. This gap is bigger than ever. But what does that mean? That is, we have the same principle today that created the First and Second World Wars, and possibly the third. That is why it is so important that I create a concept of art that at least tries to put society on a completely new footing. Do you think that my grief after the war, which we talked about earlier, did not get much bigger than when I had to experience all this Adenauer shit, so I saw that everything was rebuilt in the sense of the previous century ?

I believe your despair. But I also see that an assembly line worker does not have the opportunity and the time to deal with your suggestions. He only reacts aggressively if you put a few felt plates in front of him and say that it is now worth as much as a Rembrandt.

BEUYS: Okay, I will give him the time to understand that, for example by freeing the school system from the state's entrepreneurship. Because then completely new human skills will come to light. I also know that the situation at the moment is as you describe it: terrifying. A miracle if it were different. We got there. And do you know what the reason is? The reason is that people, very unqualified, pour their own difficulties onto other people's work results. It's not just me. If someone buys a car today, the neighbours will love it as well. So I'm in no other situation than all of us together. I fully involve myself in all these difficulties, and all I can say at this point is that I am guilty of this, for as long as I cease to put an alternative to this doom trend, this destruction of all values. I knew when I started my exhibitions that it would go this way, that all this shit would come out. It will emerge like an unresolved past, you might say, which is in all of us, I always involve myself in it. I am not outside of these difficulties. But I also have to say that those who write "degenerate art" and such things are even more intelligent than the university professors. Because why don't they report at all? Why do they all just sit there and write books? When people's difficulties are up for discussion, they all shut up because they are cowardly and conformist, but they call themselves scientists! In this context I even have to name people that I usually appreciate, such as Habermas. Who reported when the difficulties with the numerous clauses arose? Nobody! These professors are much more primitive than the people who get excited about my objects. The so-called cultural institutions, which today hold the leading positions in schools and universities, are in the majority abandoned to the decline of their intelligence, irrevocably, while such movements, which are expressed in these Nazi formulations, are not seen as irrevocable, but can be seen there still build up. You only have to get these people away from their usefulness thinking once. That started with Kant. This separation already occurs, the thing itself and all these questions, everything is torn apart. There is no longer this harmony between man and nature as with the Greeks, and this naturally leads to a one-sided belief in material values, that is, in materialism. It is no wonder then that people start thinking only in terms of usefulness, so say: What is the use to me? What the hell? What does this mean? Ain't my beer!

Well, the beer of a factory worker who has to work from early to late to get the money for his family is really not looking at your mortuary bed object in the Munich City Gallery.

BEUYS: Exactly! It is not his beer because it was designed in such a way that it cannot be his beer at all. That is why I give him my extended concept of art so that he becomes aware of what he is doing in his work. Many already know today that I will also give them the necessary free time, because my concept of art is aimed specifically at changing the concept of work. Well, this factory worker could say: Well, now I only solidarise myself with art, because Beuys explained to me that only with this thing could the whole shit in which I stand here be set in motion. Do you think it would be the task of an expanded concept of art to put these fucking beds in the museum? They are at most an intermediary, so that the discussion gets heated over and over again, so that it becomes clear that there is no other means than art to change the conditions in which we stand, that is, the man from his assembly line dependency to free and give him a job that leads out of the one-sidedness.

Now specifically: What should this worker do to get out of his misery?

BEUYS: He should no longer vote for the SPD or CDU, but for the Greens, for whom I will run for the next Bundestag election. ***

If you were actually elected, how do you intend to fill this job at all? You wouldn't have time for anything else.

BEUYS: First of all, I only make myself available during the election campaign. I don't think any further. I can stand in the breach and run quietly and then go out again after a short time. When I am elected, I can say that I will go back to work. There are opportunities for exchange. The Greens don't want them to sit there for four years anyway. These are all completely new structures. First of all, it is important to bring things a bit forward. You can rethink what should happen then. I'm not as impractical as many think. I sometimes think things in very big sheets, but actually I only think from one day to the next.

I have the suspicion that you only think out of the desire to exchange ideas. Discussing with you is an epicurean process. The consequences are obviously not so important to you.

BEUYS: Hold on, no, it's not like that. I'm not talking for the sake of talking. But I also know, of course, that you can approach such a thing strategically. First of all, I can run quietly. That's why I'm far from being elected. Nothing in life is more important than tactics. Tactics, strategy, form, solution, plan, organisation, these are all things that are very important for art, for the production of a sculpture or plastic.

From their original meaning, there are terms that play a role, especially in the military field.

BEUYS: Yes, but you shouldn't look at it that warlike in my case. That is much nicer for me. I know exactly if one way doesn't work, I'll go another. I've always said: I'm a rabbit. I run through a furrow, and if they want to get me, I have another furrow in my head without thinking too much.

And finally, bury yourself in the ground. Then nobody can find you anymore.

BEUYS: I have long since melted into the earth anyway.

In the event that you don't succeed in your excuses, will there soon be a rabbit in the German parliament?

BEUYS: I founded a party for animals anyway many years ago. It is the largest party there is. You can view the founding documents in the Darmstadt State Museum. There are people who say that is nonsense. But they will still be amazed. Elephants have been involved in politics for a long time, even rabbits, who no longer allow human sterility to be sprayed in front of their noses, are slowly striking back, and do it tremendously.


BEUYS: You can also say angels.

Should I take this seriously now, or are you kidding?

BEUYS: I am not joking at all, not even when I laugh, because this laugh is due to the fact that I basically grabbed the problem by the tail a long time ago. There is no longer a chance for destructive structures. Capitalism is irreversible in mining. This apocalypse has been going on for a long time, and then we will have a whole new world order. If there are people who are waiting for the end of the world, they will wait in vain because I will prevent it. That's the way it is, and it's by no means arrogant, it's just logical.

I would like to be saved by you. I hope as much as you do that the world will be good one day.

BEUYS: Now come back to me with your hope! When I go swimming and the water is in front of me, I don't need hope to have water, I just go into the water.

The water is not the solution to the problems we are talking about here. I go into the water without any hope.

BEUYS: But there must be solutions, Lord God, sacrament! If I go to the carpenter and order a chair, the chair must be a solution for sitting. If it is not a solution, I will knock it over the skull of the carpenter.

The solution to sitting doesn't have to be a chair. You can also sit on the floor.

BEUYS: You are constantly breaking the logic of things. You are completely unreal, live in a completely unreal world, conjure up something in your imaginations that has nothing to do with reality. How do you want to live without solutions at all? Whether these are solutions for the carburettor in the car, for sitting, for the organisation of school and college, for banking, the concept of art, the concept of democracy or the concept of money. If you want to approach a problem methodologically, you always need some solution models, i.e. a design principle in organising, which is then an artistic principle to the highest degree. This cannot end where painters only paint pictures or sculptors knead something out of clay, it must be a thing that represents a solution for the people as a whole. If I were not convinced that I had found a solution for art or in the sense of the expanded concept of art: for life, I would throw my things in the bucket and would not dare to take all the stuff to the Guggenheim in New York. To have the museum transported. So it can only ever be a solution, but these solutions provide a lot of people. I'm not the only one who creates solutions. My neighbour produces solutions. The vegetable woman produces solutions. I'm not someone who imposes his solutions on others. I make an offer, that's all. My starting point is human self-determination.

But it ends where people stop living at the latest. So there is a limit. Man cannot determine his death.

BEUYS: So now it's getting messy. now you must let yourself be said with all your love: you are completely unrealistic. Death is not a limit. Death is life. I see death as the only way to be able to make a statement about life at all. Otherwise I would have to start from the old Darwinian idea that everything is over with death. In reality, however, it is the case that in the organist's sense life begins with death in the first place. There are enough people who have dealt with this puzzling question of life, such as Lorenz Oken or Goethe or Caspar David Friedrich or German idealism.

They were all very believing people.

BEUYS: Yes, I'm a believer too. That does not have to come to the fore by worshiping the Pope or belonging to any denomination.

Do you consider yourself immortal in your works?

BEUYS: Oh, nonsense!

The American object artist Edward Kienholz recently expressed a wish that he would like his things to be burned when he is dead.

BEUYS: He only says that because he's clever enough to know that things are all preserved by the conservator anyway. What are these statements? I think that's downright frivolous, because then he shouldn't sell anything at all, but would have to collect everything with him and, if he scratches off, quickly pour a can of petrol over it and light a match.

So something is left?

BEUYS: Yes, for my sake, if it doesn't rot away by then or if people tilts it somewhere because of a sudden change in polarity, something will be preserved.

Some would like to throw their things into the bulky waste already today.

BEUYS: What is that name: bulky waste?

This is garbage that is too big to be thrown into a garbage can.

BEUYS: The garbage disposal people are my best friends anyway.


* During the interview, Eva Beuys, apologising for the disturbance after sneaking across the room, I asked her why she apologised, since for Beuys, there was no separation between art and life, professional and private, "Oh yes, she replied, the separation of art and life is very good. Beuy's, in private life, thank god is not the artist at all." If he were, she wouldn't be able to stand it for long. But he was rarely at home anyway. She always had to do without amusements like dancing or visiting. Surely she would like to have her husband more often. "But what's the use of moaning and moaning? As a woman you shouldn't get too deep. You adjust your day anew every day. You have to stay sober. One thinks that the seafaring women used to have it easier."

** After Beuys occupied the secretariat of the Düsseldorf Art Academy in 1972 with rejected students, Johannes Rau, the then Minister of Science of North Rhine-Westphalia, fired him without notice. Beuys and his students, accompanied by police officers, had to leave the academy. After years of litigation, the dismissal was declared invalid on April 7, 1978 at the Federal Labor Court in Kassel. Beuys was allowed to keep his studio in the academy until he reached the age of 65 and to continue to hold the title of professor, for which he accepted the termination of his employment.

*** Federal election 1980. Beuys did not achieve the number of votes required for a mandate.

(interview conducted on 8 February1980 and originally published in the German edition of Penthouse no.106,1980)

Translation David Costello 2019