• Duration of the Exhibition03. October 2008 - 25. January 2009
  • VenueHamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin
  • The exhibition was made possible by the Verein der Freunde der Nationalgalerie and supported by the Philip Morris GmbH Kulturförderung.


Spread over 15 separate chapters, the exhibition BEUYS. We Are the Revolution in the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum für Gegenwart – Berlin explores the Utopian dimension that runs through Joseph Beuys’ entire body of work. His idea of a revolutionization of all social relations, founded upon his ‘Expanded Concept of Art,’ is of central importance to the entire exhibition. Time and again since the development of the subject in the Renaissance, revolution and art have been posited against each other. The French Revolution of 1789 marked the first attempt to end the social inequality that reigns supreme over humankind as a whole.

While always rejecting every form of violence, Beuys repeatedly related his theoretical concept of revolution back to these political upheavals of late 18th century France which went on to have such enormous consequences for Europe as a whole. He saw his idea of a radical change of all social relations – which he had formed by looking to art – much more as an evolutionary process. In the second half of the 20th century, after the experiences of the Second World War and the industrialized genocide of the Nazis – and partly driven by his own sense of guilt – Beuys attempted to mobilize all powers available to him, to, as he put it, formulate a ‘plan’ which would attempt to overcome all the existing dichotomies, the dualism between mind and matter, between humankind and nature, between poverty and wealth.

For the first time ever, this exhibition will view the artist’s visual and linguistic body of work as a whole and will attempt to outline the formation of his ‘Expanded Concept of Art,’ the core defining concept in Beuys’ work, making it clearly decipherable and accessible to the viewer. The exhibition starts off in the large hall on the ground floor with the artist’s grandiose later work, Palazzo Regale, which takes thought and death as its central themes and which conceives of biography as beginning from the point of its departure – death – which Beuys viewed as the intensely charged thread running through his entire life, as shown in his words: “It’s death that keeps me going.” Further core works of his such as Lightning with Stag in its Glare, Doppelfond, Directional Forces and Grond exemplify his intense struggle with the formation processes of various different materials which even incorporate language itself and which formed the basis of his ‘Plastic Theory,’ upon which all his expanded ideas were founded. Beuys took an all-encompassing concept of art as his initial basis and then applied this in his attempts to scrutinize the various conditions placed upon human life as well as to predict what shape they may take for future generations. His motto “Every individual is an artist” applies to those creative powers of the individual which variously set processes of transformation in motion in any field of human endeavour and which are aimed in some way to fulfil the as yet unresolved demands of the French Revolution for liberty, equality, and fraternity.

By taking art as his basis, Beuys went on to try to redeem this socialist Utopia in terms of law (equality), business (fraternity) and intellectual life (intellect). He was not only active as a teacher at the Kunstakademie in Düsseldorf and later at the Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research, which he himself founded, but also founded parties and organizations which set out to achieve these goals at a practical level.

The exhibition highlights each of these many lines of work so untypical of an artist, as well as Beuys’ grappling with the concepts of work, thought, sculpture, democracy, education, business, money, law and Christianity. In addition to this, all other forms of his rich artistic output are also presented, ranging from drawings, sculpture, objects, environments and film to his written works, all of which repeatedly refer back to his fundamental vision of a revolutionary transformation of society.

Once again then that man with the hat, who was once so well known and who appeared to be a constant force in the media is set to return to take centre stage, bringing with him his instantly recognizable choice of clothing, his memorable use of language and his enigmatic actions. His popular and at the same time spectacular large-scale projects, such as Honey Pump in the Workplace and the planting of 7,000 oak trees will be presented as a social-ecological works of art. The co-founder of the German Green Party and one time friend of Andy Warhol, Heinrich Böll, Rudi Dutschke, Marcel Broodthaers and many other leading contemporary figures of his day, the great reformer Joseph Beuys, will be asked by the value of his ideas to give his assessment on our society as it is today. In countless film recordings he can be seen either talking directly to the public or appearing silently as an Actionist, in hundreds of drawings his relationship to all things in life is disseminated. The public will not only encounter a body of work that is universal in its approach, but rather a whole cosmos of ideas which is deeply rooted in the intellectual history of Europe.