This is Elena Passarello’s final column about famous animals from history, featuring Little John, a coyote who made seventies art-world history.
This was a typical performance by Joseph Beuys—mysterious, incomprehensible, in many ways absurd, yet strangely memorable.
I wanted to isolate myself, insulate myself, see nothing of America other than the coyote.
His back was never turned to the people watching from behind the barrier. Maybe he sensed that more danger would come from them than from the man in there with him, or maybe it was simply because he was a splendid showman.
Name: Little John
Species: Canis latrans var
Years Active: 1974
Distinguishing Features: well-tended sable coat, toothy grin
Skills: fetching leather gloves, urinating on newspapers of record, transforming humans into their mythic selves
Habitat: 409 West Broadway, New York, NY 10012
Additional Notes: When Joseph Beuys was a teenage pilot stationed in Crimea, his plane was shot down, his copilot incinerated on impact. A band of nomadic Tartars dressed in coarse fur found the injured Beuys on the steppe; they salved his wounds with animal fat and swaddled him in felt. Then they dragged Beuys to their tents, where they healed him. The transforming powers of these natural substances—fur, flesh, and felt—made Beuys an artist. Or that’s the story Beuys told, at least.
German military records show Beuys served as a radio operator, and though he was aboard a plane that crashed in 1941, it went down, not in the hinterlands, but on a Crimean airstrip, where a colleague pulled him from the wreckage. Read More