Joseph Beuys, 7000 Oaks
West 22nd Street
between 10th and 11th Avenues
New York City.
7000 Oaks by Lynne Cooke with statements by Joseph Beuys
I believe that planting these oaks is necessary not only in biospheric
terms, that is to say, in the context of matter and ecology, but
in that it will raise ecological consciousness-raise it increasingly,
in the course of the years to come, because we shall never stop
Thus, 7000 Oaks is a sculpture referring to peoples' life, to
their everyday work. That is my concept of art which I call the
extended concept or art of the social sculpture.2
I wish to go more and more outside to be among the problems of
nature and problems of human beings in their working places. This
will be a regenerative activity; it will be a therapy for all
of the problems we are standing before.... I wished to go completely
outside and to make a symbolic start for my enterprise of regenerating
the life of humankind within the body of society and to prepare
a positive future in this context.
I think the tree is an element of regeneration which in itself
is a concept of time. The oak is especially so because it is a
slowly growing tree with a kind of really solid heartwood. It
has always been a form of sculpture, a symbol for this planet.3
The planting of seven thousand oak trees is thus only a symbolic
beginning. And such a symbolic beginning requires a marker, in
this instance a basalt column. The intention of such a tree-planting
event is to point up the transformation of all of life, of society,
and of the whole ecological system...4
They are basalt columns that one can find in the craters of extinct
volcanoes, where they become a prismatic, quasi-crystalline shape
through a particular cooling process-which produces these shapes
with five, six, seven, and eight corners. They could, and still
can, be found lined up like perfect, beautiful organ pipes in
the Eifel region. Today, most of them are protected. But we didn't
have to have these particular splendid organ pipes, we just wanted
a material with basalt characteristics from the environs of Kassel.
So there we found basalt columns which are part crystalline, that
is to say, they have sharp corners, but at the same time tend
toward amorphousness. 5
My point with these seven thousand trees was that each would be
a monument, consisting of a living part, the live tree, changing
all the time, and a crystalline mass, maintaining its shape, size,
and weight. This stone can be transformed only by taking from
it, when a piece splinters off, say, never by growing. By placing
these two objects side by side, the proportionality of the monument's
two parts will never be the same.
So now we have six- and seven-year-old oaks, and the stone dominates
them. In a few years' time, stone and tree will be in balance,
and in twenty to thirty years' time we may see that gradually,
the stone has become an adjunct at the foot of the oak or whatever
tree it may be.6
With these statements, Joseph Beuys has provided an unusually
extensive and detailed account of the aesthetic and philosophical
impetus underlying the realization of his work 7000 Eichen (7000
Oaks). This project was inaugurated at Documenta 7 in Kassel,
Germany in 1982, in a plan which called for the planting of seven
thousand trees, each paired with a columnar basalt marker measuring
approximately four feet above ground, throughout the greater part
of the city. Brought from a quarry some thirty kilometers from
Kassel, the stones were initially heaped on the lawn in front
of the Fredericianum, Documenta's principal exhibition building.
On March 16th of that year, several months prior to the opening
of the exhibition, Beuys himself planted the first tree with its
The action continued over the next five years under the aegis
of the Free International University, the diminishing pile of
stones in front of the Fredericianum indicating the progress of
the project. Planting in public spaces in the inner city was carried
out on the basis of site proposals submitted by residents, neighborhood
councils, schools, kindergartens, local associations, and others.
The result, according to Norbert Scholtz, offered significant
opportunities for "occupying and utilizing 'public' open
At the opening of Documenta 8 in June 1987, some eighteen months
after his father's death, Beuys's son Wenzel planted the last
tree. While sixty percent of the trees employed in Kassel were
oaks of several varieties, fifteen other species were also incorporated,
including ash, chestnut, crab, elm, gingko, hawthorn, locust,
maple, and walnut.
For most of the first two decades of his career, Beuys's principal
activity as an artist was focused on the sites of the art gallery
and museum. However, in the 1970s, as he consolidated his philosophy
outlining a social revolution effected in part by the transformative
powers of art, he increasingly directed his attention toward a
broader public. Thus in 1972, for the hundred-day duration of
Documenta 5, he engaged in public debate with whomever he encountered
in his improvised office for Direct Democracy. Teaching and lecturing
continued to preoccupy him throughout the remainder of the decade,
often under the auspices of the Free International University
or the Organization for Direct Democracy, both institutions he
had helped launch. In addition, he became a founding member of
the Green Party whose mandate originally encompassed ecological
and environmental issues in an extraparliamentary arena.
While it is appropriate to view Beuys's project 7000 Oaks primarily
in the context of his own work and artistic activity, parallel
concerns engaged certain contemporary artists elsewhere. In the
United States the so-called land or earth art projects of the
late 1960s and '70s had been initiated in part by a wish to reconnect
with the larger world outside the urban environment, by a concern
to circumvent the mechanisms of the established art market, and
by a desire for greater participation on the part of a broader
audience. In different ways, works such as Walter De Maria's The
Lightning Field (1977), James Turrell's ongoing project at the
Roden Crater, and both Robert Smithson's and Robert Morris's involvements
with land reclamation projects on abandoned sites ravaged by strip
mining have affinities with Beuys's concurrent activities and
interests. Yet, 7000 Oaks is characteristic of this German artist
in that it could both function as a small-scale, intimate project,
the outcome of individual initiative, as well as a highly ambitious,
potentially vast undertaking meant to be replicated elsewhere.
In this regard it accords well with his intensified focus during
the 1970s on the production of multiples, that is, objects usually
intended to be available at low cost in very large editions. Like
such works as Noiseless Blackboard Eraser (1974, edition 550),
and Wooden Postcard (1974, edition c. 600, signed), 7000 Oaks
functions not just literally, in practical environmental terms,
but symbolically, as "inspirational images."8 It embodied,
metonymically, Beuys's utopian and poetic metaphysic of a social
sculpture designed to effect a revolution in human consciousness,
"the human being as a spiritual being."9 By means of
its permanence and longevity it also sought to render "the
world a big forest, making towns and environments forest-like."10
For Beuys intended the project as realized in Kassel to be only
the first stage in an ongoing scheme of tree planting (with or
without accompanying markers) to be extended throughout the world.
Subsequently, single trees with stones have been placed at strategic
sites, including the front of the art academy in Oslo, and at
major events, such as the Fifth Biennale of Sydney, Australia.
The Dia Art Foundation provided the initial financing for 7000
Oaks in Kassel.11 Now, as Dia Center for the Arts, it has continued
the project in New York with the planting of several different
kinds of trees, each aligned with a basalt stone, in front of
its exhibition facility at 548 West 22nd Street. Further expansion
will take place in 1995 with the siting of additional trees and
steles on the north side of the street at Dia's new venue.
1. Johannes Stüttgen, Beschreibung eines Kunstwerkes (Düsseldorf:
Free International University, 1982), 1.
2. Norbert Scholz, "Joseph Beuys-7000 Oaks in Kassel,"
Anthos (Switzerland), no. 3 (1986), 32.
3. Richard Demarco, "Conversations with Artists" Studio
International 195, no. 996 (September 1982), 46.
4. Stüttgen, 1.
6. Ibid., 2.
7. Scholtz, 34.
8. Heiner Bastien, 7000 Eichen, (Bern: Benteli Verlag, in association
with Kunsthalle Tübingen, 1985), n. p.
9. Demarco, 47.
10. Demarco, 46. Beuys chose the number 7000 partly because he felt "seven represents a very old rule for planting trees"
(and he referenced such towns as Seven Oaks in the U.S. and its
namesake in England), and because it coincided with the seventh
Documenta. Dismissing 70 and 700 as too few to signify the idea,
he settled on the number 7000 as one which" will be a very
strong visible result in 300 years."
11. In addition to the initial funding provided by Dia, further
sources included individual tree sponsorships, donations from
many other artists, as well as significant contributions by Beuys