Joseph Beuys on the Rhine

Against the Grain

What is art? And who is allowed to make it? Joseph Beuys wanted to provoke social change. He had been a professor at the Düsseldorf Art Academy since 1961. With his so-called expanded concept of art, he opened up the course to all who applied – disregarding the strict admission restrictions. This disrupted the academy’s operation and he was sacked. His student Anatol subsequently staged an art event on the Rhine on October 20th, 1973: “The Homecoming of Joseph Beuys”. The action, essentially a boat trip, started right outside these windows on the opposite bank of the Rhine. It was planned down to the last detail and officially sanctioned: shipping on the Rhine was suspended for several hours and river police and divers were on hand.

All that remains to exhibit is the film and a tablecloth upon which the two artists sketched their manoeuvre. Depicted are five rowers with the Düsseldorf skyline in the background. The route is shown on the back of the cloth.

Beuys was met with as much incomprehension as worldwide success. Following a lawsuit, his professorship was formally reinstated in 1980. However, he was not permitted to teach at the Academy again.