Joseph Beuys may not be a household name outside of Germany, but the Stuttgart artist and thinker revolutionised how we think about what art is capable of and how it can be created. He liberated art from stuffy institutions and constantly challenged outdated, bourgeois notions of what an artist should be.
Andres Veiel’s documentary, Beuys, explores the life of the seminal performance and installation creative with an excellent collection of archive footage and interviews, but also a reflection of how the man’s presence is still making ripples in today’s art scene.
What makes Beuys different from other artists in the post Second World War art world is his sense of humour but also his sense of civic duty. When his peers were lost in the ruins of Berlin, deep in thought over metaphysical issues and essentially disconnected from society as a whole, Beuys was using his art to engage with large communities. One of his most (in)famous works was 7000 oaks, wherein the humanist creative enlisted the help of an army of volunteers to plant 7000 trees around Kassel, Germany, to protest the sprawling urbanisation.
Beuys was a notoriously slippery character, always shape-shifting and always questioning social roles. Veiel struggles to pin this complex figure down, let alone provide something more detailed and complicated than a 90-minute homage. In an attempt to connect the subject matter with contemporary issues, the documentary is seriously lacking in any historical context of the artist, which would have added substance and richness to the sloppily edited talking heads.
Since his death, Beuy’s work has travelled the world and inspired many, but one remarkable thing the film accomplishes is showing how the artworks came together: his process, his frustration and, finally, the end result.
Veiel’s documentary struggles to capture the complexities of this humanist, sociologist, artist, shaman but offers a pleasant introduction to the man who made art funny and powerful again. Sloppy editing, convoluted narration and lack of depth have hampered Beuys from digging deeper.
Beuys does not have a UK release date yet.
Read our interview with the director, Andres Veiel, here.
For further information about the 67th Berlin Film Festival visit here.
Read more reviews from the festival here.