A portrait of the artist as a revolutionary thinker, Andres Veiel’s documentary Beuys is a simple, but elegant and educational bio-doc.
Revolutionary Roadby Mark Wilshin
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
Making a documentary about Joseph Beuys, the artist that swallowed sculpture and spat it back out again as a concept, is surely no easy task. And comprised of archive footage, blown-up photographs, and talking head interviews, at first glance Andres Veiel’s Beuys seems to fall short of the task. It does of course make for interesting viewing, with the mercurial and talkative Joseph Beuys in his trademark hat and hunting waistcoat at its centre. And from his first concept sculpture in 1965 How To Explain Pictures To A Dead Hare through his tenure as professor at the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts to his retrospective at the Guggenheim, there’s plenty of footage to build a picture of both the man and his work; the perfect primer for those of us unlikely to read the monograph. But, after an opening reel on the importance of Beuys, Veiel’s documentary changes tack and pursues a more conventional, chronological form – from his Luftwaffe days and the crash that crushed his skull to the misery of no success, and on to becoming a founding member of the Green Party.
But for the artist who believed sculpture could change the world, a rumination of Beuys’ concepts is perhaps the best way forward, his ideas finding expression both in his artworks and his political engagement. Above all, beyond the elucidation of Beuys’ deconstruction of sculpture into the three forces of form, Veiel’s documentary reveals most clearly the responsibilities of the artist; to create originally, withstand market forces, ignore controversy, understand people’s unspoken questions and provoke mutual discovery. And with the art worlds once again tamed by power and economics, Beuys comes as a timely reminder to resist.
Beuys is now showing at the 67th Berlin Film Festival