How much art doesn't survive

100th birthday of Joseph BeuysJonathan Meese: "Gurus are no longer popular these days"

Because Joseph Beuys would have been 100 years old today, there will be many exhibitions and conferences on his work this year. How up-to-date is it for his fellow artists?

Jonathan Meese, sculptor, painter, stage designer and performance artist, considers Beuys to be a "great artist" - with reservations: "So where Beuys was hermetic, even with the curious, he was best. Where he was not much said or nothing at all when he was alone with the art. " According to Meese, it becomes difficult when Beuys "gets in common" with politics or the public, for example in the event of the 1,000 oak trees. As an artist, you should never allow yourself to be instrumentalized by politics, according to Meese.

(Picture Alliance / dpa / Bernd von Jutrczenka) "Get the wrong thing out and the cool thing in!"
The artist Jonathan Meese is - to put it mildly - controversial. His work: pictures, sculptures and performances that can make you feel anxious. So we were a bit unsure at first when we visited Meese in his studio.

Karin Fischer: Mr. Meese, you have already been described as a "revenant" by Joseph Beuys. They both share a love for action and provocation. What is important to you about Beuys or his work?

Jonathan Meese: For me, Joseph Beuys is a great artist who was on the wrong track, did a lot of wonderful things, but also a lot of terrible things. Politics and art cannot be brought together, they are opponents. One excludes the other.

Art can never subordinate itself to politics and also not to religion. Art is not a sect, nor is it a religion, nor is it a priestly caste or a guru. And one must not produce followers, nor create peer pressure. Art is totally free and independent.

"He's watered down"

Fisherman: But didn't Beuys do just that, for example with his oak trees for the documenta?

Meese: These oaks, that was one of his weakest actions because he involved the audience there. And then you always make yourself in common with an audience, so to speak, and also with politics and the system. So where Beuys was hermetic, alone even with the curious, there he was best. Where he didn't say much or nothing at all when he was alone with the art.

It was later watered down, and it also watered down itself, in that it wanted too much to please and wanted to produce too many followers and Beuys disciples. That was a great artist, he had a uniform, that's also a connection to me. He looked good, he was exhausted, he burned for something, he was very present.

Well, that's a great guy, but he also comes from the 60s and 70s, when gurus were still popular, these disciples, making students dependent on themselves. And that is no longer trendy today.

"You can invent anything in art"

Fisherman: We need to speak very briefly about one thing that is really important to his life, the so-called Crimean legend. Fat and felt became the basis of his artistic cosmos because, at least as he himself said, Beuys was shot down in a bomber in the Second World War in the Crimea, rescued by Tatar nomads, wrapped in fat and felt, and thus rescued and healed. That was then believed for a long time and only later revealed as a legend, i.e. a story made up. How do you think about it, does it belong to his cosmos or does it have to be separated?

Meese: Art is the truth, that's why you can invent anything in art. Beuys was very strong again, he invented his life or invented parts of his life and abstracted art from it and found an essence. There he is very big and very strong. It's not bad that he invented something, it's part of art, it's a game. And art is actually the healer, but not the artist. The artist must always remain a charlatan. It's a great thing to be called a charlatan, only a shaman is not good.

"What survives is always true"

Fisherman: That means: art and life are not really to be viewed separately, but has it seriously staged itself as part of its own art history? He also called himself a storyteller, for example. The whole discussion about true and false, is that wrong in your eyes?

Meese: Yes. There is no true or false in art because art is the future. What survives is always true. And what survives in Beuys is art - and not politics, not religion, not the guru. Not even the Beuys disciples survive, not even this bitter way of dealing with him. And then we will also save him for the future if we don't clientize him like that.

We are not only allowed to portray him as a political clown, but really get the essence out of it. And that is art - the pure, most total, independent art. The total work of art, which he also wanted. And he wanted the most total freedom of art, so no censorship, that's obvious, he would be very angry nowadays about censorship in art.

(Imago / Everett Collection) Sculptor, action artist and initiator Joseph Beuys brought art to the center of society. Starting with sculpture, he developed the idea of ​​social sculpture as a rapprochement between art and life. His spiritual practices and his self-portrayal as a public figure in a vest and hat met with reservations.

"The drawings are very, very wonderful"

Fisherman: The largest complex of works by Joseph Beuys is housed in the State Museum in Darmstadt, where the famous Beuys block is located. The museum also has hundreds of drawings by the artist, most of them hidden in sketchbooks, for example the Ulysses drawings, all of which have now been digitized for a future exhibition. These, in turn, are extremely filigree, for the most part abstract. But some also look a bit like cave drawings, we know that from him. Not only the symbolic, but also the drawing books are somehow a connecting element between the two of you.

Meese: Absolutely. I also always made drawings and notes. And the drawings by Joseph Beuys are very, very wonderful, too, and his feeling for the material was excellent. He just wanted to always bring the sacred into the material. This is wrong. Art has nothing to do with belief; rather, art is a metabolic certainty - and that is objectification, not subjectification. Unfortunately, Beuys was on the wrong boat. Art has nothing to do with the self, but with art, that is, with being an object, with things. One must never sanctify the material and never stylize oneself as saints. That will not do.

"Provoking is always good in art"

Fisherman: A mediator and between art and politics, that is, between life and truth, as you put it, would be the performance artist Joseph Beuys. And that, in turn, connects him to you, and you really like to provoke, with swastika symbols, with the beautiful motto dictatorship of art, with the term ore, we don't want to add blood and soil to that, you know what I'm alluding to.

Meese: Provoking is always good in art. You can really do Remmidemmi there, so you also relieve reality and can also transform it. All the great artists provoked, whether Richard Wagner or Ludwig II of Bavaria or Klaus Kinski or Beuys, me too. It's part of the game, you have to endure it and you have to endure it and the world has to endure that too. And only if we keep Beuys controversial will he survive. If we give him praise or rub him down and soften him up, he will not survive.

"Don't get in common with politics"

Fisherman: Then please say again, Jonathan Meese, what is your criticism of the political Beuys?

Meese: The criticism is that as an artist you should never allow yourself to be instrumentalized by politics. And you shouldn't pass politics on either, because politics must be abolished, that's art. Art stands above things, art survives, politics passes. Art is timeless, politics is time-bound, it has a certain time window. Art is timeless, we see that with Richard Wagner. The art survived. And from all times only art survives.

You can't get in common with politics, not even with religion, these are places that are inartificial, they suck you away. In order to stick to art, you have to carry it forward and feed it - and not something else. You can't subjugate the art of politics, it just doesn't work, then politics will tear you apart.

Art is always stronger than politics, but it is an energy vampire. I can't get anything from politics, I can't change anything, that doesn't help. Founding a party doesn't help either, then I'm in the space of artlessness.

Statements by our interlocutors reflect their own views. Deutschlandfunk does not adopt the statements of its interlocutors in interviews and discussions as its own.