Those unfamiliar with mid-20th-century German artists or the Fluxus art movement have probably never heard of Joseph Beuys, the subject of Andres Veiel’s documentary Beuys. And with a few tweaks here and there, it could easily be taken for an entirely made-up documentary about a made-up person. It’s not, but both his Beuys and Beuys hit many archetypal beats.
Beuys was primarily a sculptor and performance artist who also got involved in social issues, including a run for political office in 1983, a fascinating subject which the film zips by on its way to the end. Beuys’s performance piece How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare — in which he covered his skin in gold leaf and talked to a hare’s corpse — was played completely straight, but if presented as a spoof of performance art, it would seem plausible. It’s notable that on a rare occasion that he allows himself to be photographed without his fedora hiding his balding pate, he’s called brave. Ah, the fragile masculinity of the rebel artist! Which brings up the real shame of it all: Although Fluxus was represented in Julian Rosenfeldt’s Manifesto, Beuys’s words weren’t included, so Cate Blanchett never spoke them. Now that would have been some great art.
Opens Friday at the Roxie Theater.