Beuys and Düsseldorf
Life stations along the Rhine
Life stations along the Rhine
Joseph Beuys was closely connected to Düsseldorf as the city where he lived, created, learned, and taught. Even now, the artist’s strong bond with the state capital is reflected in numerous locations. Some of the signs are obvious, such as the basalt stele from the “7000 Oaks” art project that travellers can spot on a tour of the Rhine metropolis. In other places, less conspicuous traces mark workplaces or sources of inspiration.
The former residential studio at Drakeplatz probably was the place most important for the artist. Joseph Beuys used the white four-story building with its bronze-coloured house number four as both his family’s home and as a studio from 1961 to 1975. This is where he lived and worked, created new works, received artists from around the world, and exhibited his work for friends. At times, his rooms rather resembled an art depot than a flat. He transformed everyday objects into sculptures and let his two children play around them. In 1975, the family moved to the house next door, while the Drakeplatz 4 building remained Beuys’ studio and workshop for the rest of his life.
Sensitive explorers can still feel the magical charisma of this place when they cycle or stroll through the beautiful streets of Oberkassel. Along the way, they can find small cafés, unique shops, and historical buildings, including the small “Heiligenhäuschen” chapel. Very close to the former residential studio, the Düsseldorf Rhine meadows provide an ideal spot for extensive breaks. The green space where even sheep can be found grazing in the summer already suggests another place to visit near the shore on the other side of the river.
Joseph Enseling and Ewald Mataré taught Joseph Beuys the art of sculpture at the Art Academy. In these venerable halls, he solidified his artistic thinking and sparked a controversial discussion on the admissions process that ultimately led to his dismissal. As a student, he discussed planned projects and campaigns with his fellow students here, drawing his inspiration from the nearby Rhine promenade or the idyllic Hofgarten. As a lecturer, he engaged in a dialogue with students in order to share his understanding that the liberal potential of art could be applied to every area of life.
Locals and guest alike continue to appreciate Düsseldorf’s old town for its cosmopolitan flair. This is where Beuys met with his students and artists from the Düsseldorf scene at the popular Ohme Jupp and Zur Uel pubs for years to discuss current topics. The bars along Ratinger Straße served as a locale for discussion of political and everyday matters alike. It was hardly surprising that the dedicated multi-talent finally decided to open a meeting place for political public relations work close by in 1970. Today, a blue sky window is all that remains of the former headquarters on Andreasstraße. Installed by Beuys in 1972, when he had the entire office moved for the documenta exhibition series, it is now part of a jewellery gallery.
A stroll through the old town with its busy restaurants and handsome shops will show attentive passers-by another reference to Beuys near the gallery. The “Black Hole” stovepipe protrudes from the wall of the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf above the entrance to the cabaret stage Kom(m)ödchen. It was installed at the Kay-und-Lore-Lorenz-Platz in 1981/82 for the Beuys exhibition “Schwarz”. A replica of the stovepipe from his living studio at Drakeplatz, this pipe represents the exchange of ideas between the interior and the exterior. Its other end leads into the Kunsthalle gallery hall.
Anyone who aims to learn more about the works of this master of felt and grease should end their cycling tour in the tranquil district of Meerbusch-Büderich. Its monuments, including the Haus Meer and Haus Eichenhof, make it well worth a visit. An old church tower on the Dorfstraße sports a cross-shaped sculpture Beuys created in his studio in the Kurhaus Kleve. The memorial is his largest work in public space. Together with an oak portal sketched by him, it commemorates the Büderich victims of World War I.
A few metres past the church tower, visitors can find the first tombstone of Beuys’ own design on the cemetery on Brühler Weg. It bears the name of Fritz Niehaus. The artist made the stone in 1951 to thank the Niehaus family, with whom he stayed for a while in Meerbusch in 1948.
Last but not least, travellers should take the time for a detour to the Büderich Rhine dyke. A two-and-a-half-metre-high Beuys granite head weighing twelve tons is standing near the Mönchenwerth country house. Produced by Beuys’ student Anatol Herzfeld, it was erected in 2009 to honour the teacher’s memory. The Beuys quote “Every man is an artist” is engraved in it.
Since then, stone Beuys has been looking expectantly towards the Rhine – right at the water and across to the other bank. Herzfeld chose this alignment with care, referring to the legendary dugout canoe campaign of 20 October 1973, when Herzfeld and other volunteers rowed Joseph Beuys across the river in a dugout canoe made of a black poplar trunk. The protest campaign against Beuys’ dismissal from the Art Academy went down in the history books as the legendary “homecoming”.