Joseph Beuys (German, 1921–1986) was a performance artist and sculptor who worked in post-World War II Germany. Born in Western Germany between World War I and World War II, he was a member of the Hitler Youth as a young adult, and joined the German air-force in 1941. His plane was shot down in 1944, a dramatic event that the artist referenced through the incorporation of several motifs in his subsequent artistic production. According to the artist, he was rescued by a Crimean tribe of Tartars, who wrapped him in fat and felt to nurse him back to health.
After the war, Beuys studied sculpture at the Düsseldorf Academy of Art, where he became a professor of monumental sculpture in 1960. Starting in 1963, Beuys began to create Aktion, his sensationalist happenings, which drew public attention for their mysterious performances, ritualistic props, and use of live and dead animals. Famous Aktion happenings included How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare and I Like America and America Likes Me, in which he flew to New York to share a room with a coyote for eight hours over a period of three days. Firm in his belief that “everyone is an artist,” Beuys worked on public and political art for the last 20 years of his life. He also was a founding member of Germany’s Green Party and FIU, or the Free International University for Creativity and Interdisciplinary Research.