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German sculptor, draughtsman, *Performance artist, and teacher, one of the leading figures in art in Europe from the 1960s to the 1980s, and central to debates about the role of the artist in the political sphere. Beuys was born in Krefeld and spent most of his early life in or near Kleve. He had intended being a paediatrician, but because of the outbreak of the Second World War he went virtually straight from school into the German air force. During his service he was wounded five times and he ended the war as a prisoner. Later in his career a story was published that after being shot down in the Crimea he was kept alive by nomadic Tartars who kept him warm with fat and felt, materials that later figured in his sculpture. The details have been contested, although the crash itself was certainly real, and the significance of the tale is in the way that Beuys used the materials of his life to produce a kind of personal mythology.

Text source: A Dictionary of Modern and Contemporary Art (Oxford University Press)

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