Joseph Beuys goes back to his childhood
Photographer Gerd Ludwig follows the artist back to his hometown where he witnessed the birth of the Nazis
On May 19, 1933 the German Nazi Party staged a book burning in the courtyard of a school in the town of Kleve, in the Lower Rhine. A 12-year-old boy watched the event and managed to salvage a book from the pile; the book was Systema Naturae by Carl Linnaeus and the boy was Joseph Beuys. Beuys would later become one of the most influential artists of the later 20th century, his work firmly grounded within the concepts of humanism, social philosophy and anthroposophy. It's fitting then that he should have chosen a book about how the animal, plant and mineral kingdoms fit together and live in relation to one another.
Forty-five years later, in January 1978, photographer Gerd Ludwig and journalist Peter Sager travelled back to the Lower Rhine with Beuys where he showed them the city of Kleve and the surrounding landscape where his philosophy on life began. The photographs captured the sparse nature of the landscape with the wide expanses of sky and horizons that stretched into the distance. Some of the photographs were published in the German weekly Zeit-Magazin’ in April that year accompanied by an essay by Sager in which he wrote that for Beuys the trip was a “look back into the landscape. This is his landscape,” he wrote, “very simple and with depth, sparse, like his works.”
The rest of Ludwig’s photographs in which Beuys revisits his former school in Kleve where he spoke to students have remained unseen and unpublished until today. They form the focus of an exhibition in the town in which they were taken which runs until January 13, 2013 at the Museum Kurhaus, Kleve. If you can’t make that you can see all of the photographs here. Beuys is, of course, just one of a number of art world changing artists you can find in The Art Book.