The Felt Suit of Joseph Beuys

Denise Birkhofer
May 3, 2013 4:45PM

In 1969, German Fluxus artist Joseph Beuys performed Isolation Unit: Action the dead mouse in collaboration with American artist Terry Fox. The event, conceived as a protest of the Vietnam War, took place in the basement of the Düsseldorf Art Academy where Beuys and Fox were both students. In the part of the performance captured in the accompanying photograph, Beuys, clad in a heavy suit made of felt, holds in his outstretched hand the body of a dead mouse that had been living under his bed.

Felt was of course a significant and recurring material for Beuys, and an integral element of his self-mythology. It was featured in his 1969 installation The Pack at the Neue Galerie in Kassel, in which an army of anthropomorphic sleds armed with rolled felt blankets and flashlights seem to escape from the back of a 1961 Volkswagen van. Suspended above the vehicle, the suit from the Düsseldorf performance now hangs limp and empty.

Beuys later recreated the felt suit from the Düsseldorf performance as a multiple, one of which is now in the collection of the Allen Memorial Art Museum. Typically displayed high out of the reach of the viewer, the suit is elevated from the realm of the everyday into the transcendent.

Denise Birkhofer