Mihai Olos and Joseph Beuys at the University of Giessen

Image:      Liviuolos / CC BY-SA (

 In an article entitled...that working in school has something to do with art”  Prof. Dr. Georg Peez provides a summary of a section of a seminar where art teachers were asked to tell about their studies with Joseph Beuys. In the section headed ‘corrections’ Prof Peez quotes a Mrs Anne W as saying: “Well, he [Beuys] was very correct, very humorous, very funny, but sometimes also brutal. To give another example, I had sculpted a clay head for my friend, not bad at all, but technically completely wrong, really without any fabrication, so the face grew longer and longer as the clay expanded down, and then he [Beuys] happened to come by at some point and then punched it hard once, and said it was right now, and I was completely horrified and unhappy and in my young girl's way of thinking felt very hurt and, yes, of course it didn’t stop there, but he did make sure there was irritation, provocation, but was also quite friendly". Peez describes how Beuys, by punching the sculpture, showed the student a completely different way of looking at it. Two different artistic ideas clashed here – the traditional naturalistic depiction which was doomed to failure without some instruction but was ‘not bad’, and a work deemed correct by a technically competent professor who had failed to impart the required skill yet, as a result of his spontaneous intervention, was considered by the student to be incorrect.

Another teacher Mr Eberhard T recalls his experience: “Beuys had a very interesting type of correction: he looked at everything and then usually sorted the works out into two or three categories, such as the good and the bad. And if you really didn’t know him, or it took somehow years to understand what he meant by the good and the bad, what you thought was good would be amongst the bad group and vice versa.” In both correction procedures students would at first feel insulted, or as in Mrs Anne W’s case, offended. It was only afterwards that students accepted Beuys’ radical intervention and understood that it led to provocative and long-term productive irritations.

Most students experienced the study conditions in Beuys’ classes as completely unstructured and chaotic and were completely unfamiliar with having to organise themselves. Ms Susanne W actually put this in a positive light: "What did we learn from it? We really had to ask ourselves over and over again: What do we actually want? Because there were no assignments and only criticism from  fellow students and from the professors you had to learn to hold your own. And that gave you backbone and it is a tremendous help in school that you know exactly what you want to achieve and that you stand by the things you want to achieve“. She also noted that the older she got the more she found this very, very good.

Mr Rolf H explicitly draws parallels between Beuys' ideas and his basic attitude to art lessons, finding Beuys’ whole discussion about the concept of art and what artists represent in our society and what they do etc very, very important. And it also became clear to him that working at school has something to do with art and he has pursued this goal ever since, not so much in terms of being a professional art educator in the morning and an artist in the afternoon, no, for him it is important that these are one and the same. That means working at school or working with people is like working with materials, just as a sculptor does or, as Beuys always put it, as social sculpture. (my emphasis)

German Student Party

Beuys' use of ring discussions at the Academy became the template for what he later called ‘permanent conference’ where he advocated that all relevant art must deal with the problems experienced by all peoples living in the real world and that it is imperative to provide an open platform for debate and discussion on topics such as politics and social issues. Sensing the growing unrest of his students (and students throughout the world) and seeing that the existing political party were showing themselves to be incapable of providing any solutions to their concerns and demands, Beuys announced with a hand written sign outside his Studio at the Academy “Today 4:00 p.m. Foundation of the German Student Party – here”. It was no coincidence that this was also just 20 days after a policeman had shot dead a university student, Benno Ohnesorg, during a demonstration against the state visit of the Shah of Persia to Berlin on 2nd June 1967.

 Student Benno Ohnesorg shot by police in 1967
Image: Unattributed Archive - The Federal Commissioner for the Records of the State Security Service of the former German Democratic Republic (BStU) / Public domain

At the very inception of the German Student Party (DSP), Beuys ran into trouble since the director of the Academy announced that any assembly for political aims was prohibited by its statutes. Acceding to this, Beuys, the attending students (over 200) and journalists walked outside to the grassy area in front of the Academy and convened the meeting there. Answering reporters’ demands to know what the programme of the new party was Beuys explained: the autonomy of the academy, i.e. the free, de-nationalized school and university system, a united Europe, overcoming the separation of East and West, the abolition of the unitary state, the abolition of the emergency laws, the implementation of the Basic Law in its pure form, absolute lack of weapons... 

Adriani, Konnertz and Thomas give the following reasons for Beuys founding the party: to create information, to encourage enlightenment, and to be able to more effectively concretize political ideas. In addition to this, Beuys sees this action as an offer to all German universities to present in a common initiative the problems of higher institutions of learning and to newly formulate the political awareness of the citizens of the country (‘Joseph Beuys Life and Works’).   

The report and statutes of the DSP were officially ratified in November 1967 but it is probably true to say that the DSP, during its four years of existence, was more successful at providing extensive coverage for Beuys’ utopian ideas than for achieving its programme of goals. But political activities like these began to plague the Academy, with Beuys a central agitator and catalyst. For example, just two weeks after the ratification of the party he performed an outlandish ‘action’ at an official matriculation ceremony. Here, supported by Henning Christiansen, he greeted new students by taking a stand at the microphone, axe in hand, and barking inarticulate sounds into the microphone for ten minutes. As Jan Verwoert writes “by turning the official occasion of an address by the academy staff into an absurd event, Beuys deliberately subjected not only himself but also the office and authoritative speaking position of the professor to mockery. At the same time, however, he also exposed the foundation of this authority: as a professor it was within his power to do such things”. 

The DSP was Beuys’ first foray into the political arena but he remained concerned with political initiatives for the rest of his life. Indeed he went on to found, or co-found, several other political organisations - the ‘Office for Political Public Relations’ in 1970, the ‘Organization for Direct Democracy by Referendum’ in 1971, and The Free International University (FIU) for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research in 1973. He became a founding member of the German Green party along with Rudi Dutschke. [Following the student protests in 1968 in France (against capitalism, consumerism, imperialism and traditional institutions), young people in West Germany had also taken to the streets to challenge the status quo. On April 11th Dutschke, a student activist, was shot in an assassination attempt by a neo-Nazi, Joseph Bachmann. He overcame brain injury to speak again and later, when Beuys met him, he recognised him as a kindred spirit].

Anti-American demonstration in Amsterdam, second from left under banner Rudi Dutschke. Banner reads  "Solidarity with American Negro".  February 21, 1968.  Image:  Ron Kroon / Anefo / CC0

It was customary in Germany that teachers be given a five year probationary period before receiving official civil servant recognition. However, partly because of Beuys’ increasing involvement in political affairs, in December 1967 the Ministry of Finance of North Rhine-Westphalia decided that Beuys would not be given such recognition but would have to work under a contract that remained subject to periodic review. This says a lot about how Beuys, and his disruptive activities, were viewed by the establishment.

To make matters worse in 1968 a device called numerus clausus was introduced into the whole West German university system which set a maximum on the number of university admissions allowed. This was something Beuys was totally against. Indeed, in October of that year Beuys called for the abolition of all admission procedures at the Academy offering instead a two-semester trial period to anyone who wanted to study with him.

This was probably the last straw for many of his colleagues, and in November 1968, nine faculty members signed an open letter to the Academy’s Director, Eduard Trier stating, in part:

“We, the undersigned professors, are of the view that the Academy is in a crisis that threatens its very survival. The force behind this development, which endangers the internal and external structure of the school, and which jeopardises its members’ ability to work, is a spirit of disruption born in essence of the ideas and the influence of Mr. Joseph Beuys. Presumptuous political amateurism, an addiction to making up other people’s mind for them, demagogic practices, and – in consequence – intolerance, defamation, and inconsideration of colleagues, are meant to destroy existing organisational structures, to disrupt both the artistic and the educational spheres, and to maliciously debase human values. We do not contest the artistic eminence of Mr. Joseph Beuys, nor do we underestimate the fascination that emanates from him. His talents and the artistic status that he has won could be of great benefit to the school, were they not coupled with an increasingly well-documented desire for power and for undue influence within the school. By making his class into a centre of agitation, he has caused it not only to extend his exertion of influence within our institution and its teaching, but he has used the school itself as a means to spread his ideas into society at large. With the aid of the German Student party, which he founded, Joseph Beuys has exerted a sinister influence on the reform movement within our school. The student representative body, which the professional faculty has, on an experimental basis, invited to participate alongside representatives of the instructors and assistants in the running of our school increasingly fallen prey to utopian and anarchistic thinking and is becoming the mouthpiece of this ideology. Meetings degenerate into pseudo-political babble and provocative criticism, culminating in unrealistic demands that reveal an open hostility to parliamentary democracy. (from Stachelhaus ‘Joseph Beuys pg 93)

Even more disturbing for the establishment was Beuys' student Jörg Immendorf’s establishment of his own independent “Lidl” Academy within the Düsseldorf Academy of Art. Theresa Nisters gives a colourful description of this within her paper “Fictional Academies as Strategy of Artists Institutional Critique: Jörg Immendorff’s LIDL-academy (1968–1970) and Gérard Gasiorowski’s Académie Worosis Kiga (1976–1982)” quoted here:

…...Immendorff proclaimed the LIDL-academy inside the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf on 2 December, 1968. On 9 December, the first LIDL-class—a crate made of cardboard, paper and wooden slats—was erected in a corridor. By this time, Immendorff and his teacher colleague Klaus Beck, who was also a former student of Beuys, had already presented an exhibition of student paintings in the academy’s building. They both intended to install a permanent working room for students within the public art academy that would give future art teachers the opportunity to gain practical pedagogical experience during their studies. Just one day later, Eduard Trier, as head of the Düsseldorf academy, banned Immendorff from entering the academy’s premises and ordered the immediate removal of the exhibition. Academy staff thereupon destroyed the LIDL-class on the morning of 24 December. It remains unclear whether the director effectively intended the destruction of the LIDL-class, or whether it was a mistake by staff members, who were in fact told to dismantle the exhibition. Whatever the case, LIDL was expelled from the academy’s site and was then set up in the meadow in front of the art academy’s building—on the same ground where Joseph Beuys, in 1967, established the Deutsche Studentenpartei. The LIDL members mounted an information desk and installed a miniature paper shed with the inscription LIDL-academy; this was confiscated by the academy’s board. Responding to these events, Reinecke [Immendorff's wife] published a press release that explained the key ideas of the LIDL-academy. Therefore, the LIDL academy, in terms of a democratically working platform, offered a possibility to exchange ideas and served as a site for critical review of the “validity of the proper work”. Any form of hierarchy or instructive differentiation between master and student had to be avoided.

To finally put these ideas into action, the LIDL-academy announced a LIDL-week at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf in May 1969; this would mark the escalation of the quarrels. The LIDL members made provisions for discussions and roundtables on topics such as “function of the art academy”, “function of art pedagogy in schools” and “function of artistic work”. 35 Representatives of teachers and students as well as ‘experimenting groups’ and ‘cultural groups’ from all over the country were expected to participate. Since LIDL had no proper budget, arriving guests had to find accommodation inside the Düsseldorf art academy; art professors Beuys, Walter Warnach and Karl Wimmenauer offered to open their classrooms for visitors. To mark LIDL-week, Immendorff published an exhibition catalogue that reproduced several letters from different members of the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, demanding bans for all students of the LIDL-academy not enrolled in Düsseldorf, and requesting an investigation of disciplinary measures against all teaching staff, notably Beuys, who supported the members of LIDL and their activity. The letters reproduced in the catalogue were labelled as “painting”, “sculpture” or “drawing” according to the speciality of the respective author. The unauthorised LIDL-week, scheduled from 5 to 10 May, was dissolved on 6 May. One day later, Düsseldorf’s public art academy closed due to “expurgatorial works”. You can read the whole paper here.

The fact that Beuys had supported such ‘anarchic’ activities could only create further tension within the Academy. Yet, in Spring 1970, he went one more step towards spreading his ideas beyond the Academy and thus providing accessibility to anyone interested to hear his views. He opened a shop in Düsseldorf as an information and action office for another political organisation he founded: the “Organisation of Non-Voters, Free Referendum”. Clearly a political organisation. The shop is now a jewellery shop but one can still see the blue windows that he commissioned there later in 1972.

Beuys' window at Andreasstrasse 25, Düsseldorf

Image: Cliff Gorman

The Free College

But perhaps Beuys’ over-riding concern at the University was its inability to accommodate the great inrush of students wishing to study there (and in Universities throughout Germany) and the inequity of numerus clausus. Since the government seemed to offer no solutions to the problem, in early 1971 Beuys started to seriously consider establishing a “Free College” where all the ideas and concepts he had developed during his 10 years of teaching at the Academy could be incorporated.

“Free” in this context was, in particular, free from any state interference and where each individual’s creativity was given the freedom to flourish in a cross-disciplinary environment focussed on working to change society for the better, thus bringing Beuys’ "expanded concept of Art" into reality. It did also proposed that students be relieved of any financial burden. 

Because of his view that entrance to anyone wishing to study should not be decided by taking an exam or submitting a portfolio, during July and August of 1971 he provocatively said he would accept all the 142 applicants that other professors had rejected for the winter semester. On October 15th he, and 16 students who actually had accepted his (officially prohibited) offer, occupied the administrative office of the Academy in order to force a meeting with the Minister of Education for North Rhine-Westphalia, Johannes Rau. To some extent this tactic worked since on 21st October Beuys received written confirmation that the 16 students would be allowed their wish. However this experience induced him to ‘go live’ and found a ‘Free College’

In the Beuys’ quote published in Adriani et al, pg 237, Beuys explains his idea in quite some detail: 

“A practical and more realistic concept of freedom for the liberation of colleges must be prepared and put into action. 

The greater part of the membership of the colleges (students) is limited today because material security for studying is not even minimally provided. Students must, on account of this ineffective situation, seek, through part-time work or occasional jobs during the semester or vacation time – which should serve for study or relaxation – the financial means for their education, and they must be freed from this situation (Not to mention the seeking of stipends or the unjust distribution of financial aid). It would only be the realisation of the fundamental right of education if students actually had at their disposal the financial means for the material security of their studies. Whoever studies also works for society, just as those who later put into practice the capabilities of their profession do. The non-payment of the work called ‘studying’ stems from the consciousness that no aim wants to lead to the realisation of the basic right of equal opportunity for the intellectual development of all. The privileges of a certain segment of society were thus regularly bequeathed. 

A majority must be informed and decide by direct vote which contribution from the free capital (people’s income) should be made available for the financing of education. In this way laws could ensure the material means for studying and living during the educational period. The idea of educational monies for students must correlate with the principle of a ‘Free College’, that is, financing the college monies in connection with the students’ desire for education:

1. Food, clothes, housing  

2.Teacher honoraria 

3. Maintenance and improvement of higher education institutions. 

The total membership of teachers and students will determine the amount of money for point 3. Point 2 and special artistic or scientific projects will be financed with the rest of the educational contributions. The Free College will achieve equality of rights for a free completion of study with state exams (which provide free, not civil servant, teachers for the course of the study). Students are at liberty within the framework of a free college to complete their studies with a state exam. The uncapable can, under certain circumstances, regulate the grading process,, while on the other hand a student’s actual capabilities in such a case are not really presented. If equal opportunities exist in this sense, almost no one will be able to be convinced any longer of the necessity of state exams – i.e. for the purposes of performance control. It will be acknowledged that the opposite is the case. Inferior students can influence their grades in certain cases while, on the other side of the coin, the capabilities of many students are not able to manifest themselves. Moreover, a performance control for the teacher is not contained therein. Verification of entire school systems in the light of the public is hindered. No one is given the responsibility for the unsatisfactory performance of students who take a state exam. On the other hand, uncontrolled teachers are personally responsible for the statements of capability which they give their students”.


So keen was Beuys to see this idea come to reality that in the following January (1972) he sought to get the disused halls of the old Düsseldorf exhibition centre as a possible location for a Free School (and also for the purpose of expanding the Academy's premises, especially his own increasingly cramped classes). He gained the support of some key players, such as Hans van der Grinten and Alfred Schmela but the City of Düsseldorf refused to make the premises available, so the project did not get off the ground in Düsseldorf.

1972 was the year of the fifth Documenta in Kassel. Beuys contribution was to set up his “Bureau for the Organisation of Direct Democracy” in the Fridericianum where, from June 30th to October 8th, Beuys brought his political and pedagogic approach to a world-wide audience by debating with visitors his ideas for reshaping society through creative involvement using direct democratic, peaceful means. He did this every day for 100 days.

His return to the Düsseldorf coincided with the start of a new academic year and Beuys already knew that many students had, once again, been rejected by the Academy. As it happened a young Lynda Morris (now Professor Art History & Curation at Norwich University College of the Arts) was a thesis student at the Royal College of Art in London, and had arranged to go on an exchange to Düsseldorf Art Academy at the beginning of the autumn term to research and observe the teaching of Joseph Beuys, who had now changed his title to Professor of Free Art.

She gives this account of how she found it at this time: “I expected Düsseldorf Art Academy to be very bureaucratic. The RCA sent an official letter about my visit but I received no reply. A few days before I was due to leave for Germany, I rang Düsseldorf. It all seemed very casual. They told me to just turn up on the first day. …….. When I arrived at the Academy in Düsseldorf there was chaos. Beuys promoted the idea of the creativity of every individual. He had therefore decided to accept every student who applied to study with him.”

Stachelhaus notes that at that time there were 1,052 students at the Academy, of whom no fewer than 268 were in Beuys’ class and for the winter semester ahead the Academy had accepted 227 students and rejected 125. Beuys, however, had declared that he would accept all 125 into his class and as early as August 24th, Eduard Trier, the Director of the Academy, had informed Minister Rau of Beuys’ intention. Four days later Beuys wrote to all the rejected students saying they would be welcome in his class. In a letter of 29th August, from the Minister, Beuys was ordered “to refrain from any attempt to force the admission of further students’”, and Trier was duly informed that the Academy were not to admit more than 227 students.

Beuys responded to the letter of 29th by sending an open letter to the Minister pointing out that Principal Trier had accepted that in a resolution passed at the Academy admissions conference rejection or acceptance of applicants was a matter for the individual class teacher and that placing an arbitrary limit on student numbers violated the constitutional rights of young people willing to study.

Minister Rau’s response, however, carried a warning that if Beuys continued to go against the official limit, or attempt to occupy the administrative offices of the Academy with his students, he would “find myself compelled to immediately terminate your employment with the state of North Rhine-Westphalia”.

On Tuesday October 10, the first day of term, 54 of the 125 rejected students arrived at the Academy and the administration refused to register them. Beuys and his students occupied the offices. They remained in the building all day and all night with the consequence that Minister Rau then terminated Beuys’ contract with immediate effect due to his “trespassing”. At 6.00 am on the Wednesday the police arrived to escort Beuys and the students from the offices. On October 12th Beuys spoke about the dismissal at a press conference describing it as "the last link in a chain of constant confrontations". He announced that he would continue to attend the Academy. All this gained immense publicity and on October 16, der Spiegel (the weekly news magazine with the largest circulation in Europe) published what was to become one of the defining photographs of this whole episode. It shows a smiling Beuys accompanied by his students leaving the Academy through a line of police officers. Beuys was later to mockingly write over this image the words ‘Demokratie ist lustig’ (Democracy is Merry) and to produce this as a ‘multiple’. (to see this, look here)

The next day Beuys received a written teaching ban from the Secretary of State but many artists, students and the general public supported Beuys' stand and joined a demonstration of around 500 people protesting against Beuys' dismissal - and the Numerus clausus.

Adriani et al’s desciption of the outcry caused by Beuys’ dismissal provides a clear account: ‘The dismissal of Joseph Beuys as a teacher at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art caused strong repercussions in the press and public and a wave of protest against the steps taken by the Minister of Education. Numerous manifestations of solidarity with Beuys from within the country and abroad arrived, while the Minister of Education was flooded with protest letters and telegrams…...At a Dusseldorf demonstration Lucio Amelio [an Italian art dealer and curator] explained on behalf of 10 well-known Italian avant-garde artists and critics:” This battle is a battle for the freedom of culture. We view the dismissal of Beuys as a dismissal of all the European avante-garde”.

A letter of protest arrived at the Ministry of Education, signed by 9 Düsseldorf colleagues ...followed by letters from within the country as well as abroad as well as Hollein, Reiner Ruthenbeck, Heiner Bastian, Richard Hamilton, Henry Moore, Edward Klienhotz, Allan Kaprow, and Jan Leering.

A telegram to the Minister of Education demanding the reinstatement of Joseph Beuys and seeing the proceedings against one of the most capable art educators as an attempt “to prevent every necessary reform” was signed by numerous personalities from various areas, among whom..[Adriani lists 31 names; included are, for example, David Hockney, Heinrich Boll, George Baselitz and the van der Grinten brothers]’

From then on there were some attempts to resolve the issue but in the end on October 30th Beuys sued the state of North Rhine-Westphalia over his notice of dismissal. The case was heard on February 21st 1973 and Beuys won his case. This ruling triggered vast response from the press in the following week with well over 50 papers reporting on it. (Susanne Anna in ‘Joseph Beuys, Düsseldorf‘). Almost inevitably Minister Rau filed an appeal. But Beuys, with great perseverance and determination, stood his ground and the whole saga went back and forwards in the courts until April 1978 when the final judgment was given in a court in Kassel: Beuys’ dismissal was unlawful.

Beuys’ plans for a Free Academy in Düsseldorf

As stated earlier, from as early as January 1972, Beuys had got together a group of supporters to explore a way to open a Free Academy in Düsseldorf. In May that year such was the interest that an informal talk about the idea given at the Academy was attended by around 350 people where (as Susanne Anna reports) “he sees the ‘free school’ as a model for a modern, urban communication centre, the last stage being accessible to all people - regardless of their educational background and age. The free school is to consist of a teaching and learning facility as well as an exhibition centre and for trading in international art”.

Just a few weeks later Beuys had a conversation with the Academy director, Eduard Trier, about the possibility of using the old discarded Düsseldorf exhibition halls for this purpose. Following a meeting of the professors it was decided to pursue this idea.

At first, negotiations with the city councillors and representatives of the Ministry looked promising, though it was made clear it would have to be clarified as to exactly whom it would be rented - and it would be at their full financial risk.

Susanne Anna reports ‘On April 27th 1973 that a company, the “Association of Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research e. V.” [abbreviated to F.I.U.], was launched to institutionalize the plans for a free university. State and city needed a legal negotiating partner. The aim was the “establishment, operation and promotion of a free university”, which wants to complement the existing school and education system and strives for legal equality with other universities. Joseph Beuys was appointed founding rector. First chairman of the association was the Düsseldorf lawyer and poster artist Klaus Staeck, the deputy chairman being a past professor at the Art Academy, Georg Meistermann, and the secretary was the Cologne journalist Willy Bongard. The founding of the association, with its plans for a free university woud attract nationwide and even international attention’. But the implementation of the project was hampered by a number of setbacks. In May the Senior City Director, rejected the plan to leave the old exhibition hall to the Free University stating, in contrast to the existing council resolution, that this would affect the future use of the exhibition halls. He feared that evacuation would no longer be possible and that the city would become liable for procuring any replacement rooms.

At this stage Beuys, out of disappointment with the failed negotiations, started to explore other Düsseldorf locations for the F.I.U. In August, at a meeting between the F.I.U and the City of Düsseldorf, the old exhibition halls were finally rejected. Instead, the old Kaufringhalle on Helmutstrasse was offered for use. However, the city made it clear that a prerequisite would be that it was to be exempt from all operating costs. After a tour of the property, the representatives of the association were agreeably attracted to the place and it was agreed to inform the state government about their common understanding on these premises. In a letter to the city dated August 14, the association now officially expressed great interest  in the old Kaufringhalle as a location for a Free International University.

However, Johannes Rau, Minister of Education of North Rhine-Westphalia, could not gain the support of his colleagues. They said that the funding of a private university was not allowed.

On October 16, Heinrich Böll, a Nobel Prize winner came onto the scene for the first time when he joined Beuys and Meistermann in a meeting with the Ministry of Science and Research to discuss the situation of sponsorship of such a university in private or state form. Böll’s involvement seemed to add extra impetus and seriousness to the negotiations, especially since the Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt had also the asked the state government for support for the project. Brandt maintained that the country should implement such an initiative quickly and sensibly. (As a politician through and through he warned that if his party didn’t implement it then the opposition would claim the idea for their own purposes).

Beuys was sufficiently confident that funding would be made available that he gave a press conference In January 1974 whereby he said he planned to open his college in the coming April. But on April 11th he received a letter from the head of the State Chancellory stating its refusal to recognise the planned institution as a private university - but promising its funding as an “institution of adult education” outside the university sector.

In the meantime discussions were taking place about the conditions under which the old Kaufringhalle could be used.

On May 13th, the city alderman called on the F.I.U. to immediately agree to take over the hall and to bear the ongoing maintenance costs; but the city had leased the property to third party until June 30, 1975! Maybe a case of the lefthand not knowing what the righthand was doing?

Seemingly undaunted, in September, Beuys, Böll and Staeck wrote to the city alderman on September 18th seeking a provisional lease on the Kaufringhalle as a private studio until the application for funding from the state was finally decided. The alderman's answer was sobering – refusing to leave the Kaufringhalle on the grounds of the imprecise nature of the concept and also casting doubt on the financial solidity of the sponsor.

At this stage the whole plan to open in Düsseldorf was given up. 

Later there were speculations that the plans for an FIU would now be realised in Cologne (1975) or on Lake Constance (1976).

With regard to Beuys’ position at the Academy and the court case, negotiations went on until late 1978 when, as stated in ‘Joseph Beuys, Düsseldorf’ pg 167, things were brought to a somewhat surprising conclusion when on November 23rd 1978, a new Minister of Science and Research, Reimut Jochimsen, succeeded in striking the following settlement: 

1. The parties agree that the employee-employer relationship ends as of September 30, 1973. Professor Beuys withdraws his suit before the labour court in Düsseldorf. 

2. Professor Beuys may continue to use his studio in the Düsseldorf Art Academy until he attains the age of 65. 

3. Professor Beuys is authorised to continue to use the title of Professor. 

4. The parties agree that the above agreement settles all possible mutual claims. 

Almost exactly one month later Beuys took out a full page in the culture section of the Frankfurter Rundschau. Under the  heading
“Aufruf zur Alternative” (Appeal for an Alternative) he methodically brought together his thoughts on many issues: the two main political systems (Western capitalism and Eastern communism), the ecological and economic crises, the function of money, the social organism with its attendant freedom issues, and peoples' need to find meaning in life. Beuys didn’t claim that he alone had the solution. “Without the help of many other people whom I encountered in my research and experiences, I certainly would not have arrived at the answers which I would like to communicate in this appeal” he wrote. But
he did offer solutions and, in particular, the need to develop a ‘Third Way’ governed by the need for a ‘revolution of concepts’. Beuys suggested that it was necessary to start with the human being – it is the human being that creates the social sculpture and it is to his measure and intentions that the social organism must be formed. Although a revolution in concepts was considered the essential step to ensure the desired change, it was not considered to be absolute nor even the first step - that should be dialogue, “inter-factionary, inter-disciplinary and international communication between alternative theoretical solutions”. Of course that was the key objective of the Free International University. 

Read the full 'Appeal'  here. 

Heinrich Böll the Nobel prize winner and co-writer with Beuys of the Manifesto                                 Image: Marcel Antonisse / Anefo / CC0

Five years earlier, in 1973, when Beuys was negotiating to attain premises for a school in Düsseldorf he, in conjunction with Heinrich Böll the Nobel prize winner, had drafted a ‘Manifesto on the foundation of a Free International School for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research’.
This earlier document had already spelled out the need for the school to ‘set up a permanent seminar on social behaviour and its articulate expression’. The Manifesto, however, placed enormous emphasis on the need to bring out and encourage the potential that lies ‘hidden’ in every single one of us.
It was published in the catalogue issued for the 1974 exhibition ‘Art into Society, Society into Art’ at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, London and is available here. It includes a proposed curriculum. Although this manifesto was produced over 45 years ago it contains so much that is still relevant and still needs saying (and absorbing and implementing) today. Having read it are you, the reader, ‘With Beuys’ on this? Or do you disagree?
Beuys’ energy levels were amazing, as witnessed in the events of 1974: 

From 9 -19th January, Beuys was in America with his “Energy Plan for the Western Man’ and starting in New York with a 3hr conference on this energy theme on Jan 11th and with subsequent  lectures in Chicago on Jan 14th &15th and more talks in Minneapolis on Jan 17th & 18th. 

On February 8th he was in Hannover, Germany speaking at a conference on the theme ‘Society in Upheaval”. 

On March 2nd he gave a lecture ‘The social organism - a work of art’ in Bochum, North Rhine – Westphalia, Germany. 

In early April he was in Oxford, England setting up his exhibition ‘The Secret Block for a Secret Person in Ireland’ (together with Caroline Tisdall who, as arts’ correspondent at The Guardian, had covered Beuys’ first public action in England in 1972 and soon afterwards became his collaborator and companion). This exhibition opened on April 7th and he gave a lecture towards the end of the exhibition on May 10th.. For a week in April he was on vacation with his family in Yugoslavia

On May 19th he gave a lecture in Krefeld, Germany at the opening of his exhibition ‘Drawings 1946 – 1971”. In late May, accompanied by Tisdall, he travelled back to the United States to perform ‘Coyote, I like America and America likes Me’ where he was cooped up in a cage with a coyote for three days. 

In June he was in Edinburgh, Scotland with ‘Three Pots Action’ and with ‘The Secret Block’ that had then moved on from London. In June he was also in Italy preparing his exhibition “Tracce in Italia – traces in Italy”. 

In August he was back in Edinburgh, Scotland in association with the Edinburgh Arts Summer School. Here he participated in the “Oil Conference”. 

In September he was in Limerick, Cork, and Dublin (Ireland) in association with the touring ‘Secret Block’ exhibition and giving lectures, attending openings and visiting places such as Newgrange and Sandycove. He was also exploring the possibility of opening an F.I.U. in Dublin, and the old Kilmainham Hospital building was actually offered to Beuys, Caroline Tisdall and Dorothy Walker as a possible seat for the F.I.U. An old monastery was another contender. 

In October Beuys was in London, at the ICA where he created the installation ‘Directional Forces” with blackboards, many of which contained the notes from interactions with visitors and discussions - along with some of his own thoughts. 

In November Beuys visited Northern Ireland (during the so-called ‘troubles’). Here he exhibited ‘Secret Block’ in Belfast (the first time a major contemporary artist had exhibited both north and south of the border of Ireland (Tisdall ‘We go this way’ pg 31) and he gave lectures in Belfast, Derry and Coleraine. He also visited the Giant’s Causeway where he witnessed natural ‘unity in diversity’. In this latter part of the year Beuys was also teaching as a guest professor at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste in Hamburg and creating over 200 drawings - many of which were incorporated into his book ‘Madrid Codex’, which had been inspired by Leonardo. 

In late December, over Christmas, he travelled to Kenya where he produced ‘sand drawings’ whilst staying with his friend and photographer Charles Wilp.
It is, perhaps, no surprise that Beuys suffered a heart attack the following year (1975). Nonetheless he continued to work at an incredible pace and it should be borne in mind that Beuys virtually did everything himself, using no assistants - unlike many well-known artists today.

The Free International School for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research

As mentioned above Beuys’ attempts to establish an F.I.U. in Düsseldorf in 1974 came to nothing. Unfortunately it was a similar story in Dublin, Ireland. 

In September 1975 Caroline Tisdall was deeply involved in the task of establishing a Free University in Dublin and of achieving funding for such an initiative. Firstly, it was important that the ideas articulated in Beuys’ and Böll’s Manifesto could be shown to be viable, and so Tisdall sought the funding (from the European Economic Community) by firstly carrying out a feasibility study. This, in conjunction with Beuys, was drafted by her in 1975 and revised a little later by Robert McDowell, artist, banker and ardent supporter.

Already an ‘ideal’ site had been found- a property in good condition and owned by the Marist Fathers, but who were wishing to let it. It had residential facilities and was in the vicinity of the town. This was seen as an ideal site for the FIU until it could become part of a far more ambitious project, which was to secure the 20 acre area of Kilmainham, a suburb of Dublin about 2 miles West of the centre. This area included the Royal hospital, the Jail and many other disused buildings and was being considered as a zone of experimental and community education.

The Free University was planned as a not-for-profit charity of which the trustees had already been selected. Brief details of the experience of an initial team of 17 staff and researchers who had agreed to be part of the initiative was also given in the study, along with a summary of the principles of the organisational structure for the University. The principles on which students were to be selected was indicated e.g. it was to be free, with no age restrictions, and not all students would be expected to hold academic qualifications on entry. In the study the University was described as a learning and research community open to the public and in which two-way communications between the public/local community and the University was a priority. A budget for the first year’s operation was included.

In the end, after all this effort, just as in Düsseldorf, the bid was unsuccessful and a campus for an F.I.U. was not, nor ever has been, achieved. But that didn’t spell the end of the project. According to Barbara Lange it was Caroline Tisdall who recognised that “even without the establishment of an institution called the FIU, one could homogenise the various activities of Beuys and functionalise them as a political idea.” And this was the approach Beuys and the F.I.U. took from then on – building an international network of supporters operating out of whatever building was most useful at the time, several of which were the private residencies of the supporters. The F.I.U. became ‘materialised’ in a form of a discussion space whereby friends and fellow artists met, regional associations formed, and  some individuals temporarily employed to take the ideas into existing institutions. Wherever it emerged its main function was to create wide-open discussion for widening social perspectives through creative thinking - encouraging input from as many perspectives as possible. Specialisation, though necessary in some circumstances, was generally considered an anathema. As Beuys said: “the human being determines the things of the world, determines himself. (…). At a certain moment (…) one decides to study physics, another will study painting, the third will be a nurse, etc. But before making such a decision towards specialisation, people must have developed in this concept of total art, that is, in the idea that from the human capacities of thought, feeling and will a person can be created who in turn can determine something; this person must be created”  [from an Interview with Beuys by Peter Holffreter, Susanne Ebert, Manfred König and Eberhard Schweigert in Konununi1cation nº l, Düsseldorf, 1973 and as quoted in Félix Suazo "Art and pedagogy: teaching or unlearning?”]

To be continued