Joseph Beuys and his 7000 Oaks
Walker Art Center's Tree-Planting Project
 

 

 
Joseph Beuys and his 7000 Oaks

Joseph Beuys (1921 - 1986) is perhaps one of the most influential artists of the 20th century. Throughout the 1970s he taught and lectured extensively, almost obsessively, outlining a social revolution that was effected in large part by the transformative powers of art. Beuys' expanded notion was to be democratic and included virtually all forms of human activity. This German artist's legacy lives on not only through the generations of artists he influenced, but also through the objects, realized projects, and suggestions for further activity that he left behind.

 


One of his projects, perhaps the grandest in scope, was 7000 Oaks. Begun in 1982, this ambitious project became a five-year effort in which he and others planted 7,000 trees of various types throughout the city of Kassel in Germany, each with an accompanying basalt stele as a marker. The solid stone form beside the ever-changing tree symbolically represents a basic concept in Beuys' philosophy, that these two natural and yet oppositional qualities are complementary and coexist harmoniously. Local community councils, associations, and citizens' initiatives determined where the trees would be planted. The organization of this project resulted in a series of conversations among participants concerning a wide range of issues, from its impact on city planning to its meaning for future generations. Completed in 1987 by his son, Wenzel, on the first anniversary of his father's death, 7000 Oaks truly epitomizes Beuys' ideas about art and its ability to effect change in society.