Joseph Beuys was the preeminent spokesperson of postwar European art and among the most radical artists of the century. He wanted to extend the creative process into every facet of life and employ art as an educational tool. Using tactics reminiscent of Dada decades earlier, and inspired by the progressive, interdisciplinary ideas of the Fluxus group in the early 1960s, Beuys felt art should be a way of life, not a profession. This philosophy culminated in his actions, or social sculptures, that were ritualistic theatrical events in which he assumed the role of modern-day shaman to arouse a spiritual response in other people and affect change in the world around him. Beuys is famous for saying, "If you have all my multiples then you have me entirely." As a political activist and a passionate professor, as well as a visual artist, he was strongly committed to the dissemination of his ideas to a mass audience and, beginning in 1965, completed more than six hundred prints and multiples. He referred to them as his "vehicles" and believed he could imbue them with a psychic energy as they went out into the world, reflecting the theme of transubstantiation that underlies much of his work. His editions range from contemplative sculptural objects in relatively small editions to mass-produced printed ephemera such as political flyers, shopping bags, and postcards, many of which function as relics of his short-lived actions. In this life-size print We Are the Revolution, Beuys emphatically calls for communal action to transform society, encapsulating a period of fervent political activism in the early 1970s. Earth Telephone reflects his fundamental theme of energy flow, or Hauptstrom (main stream). Here the telephone represents a transmitter of electric current that passes energy through the earth, while his signature felt material symbolizes the conservation of this warmth.
Publication excerpt from Deborah Wye, Artists and Prints: Masterworks from The Museum of Modern Art, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2004.