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May 12, 2021 marked the 100th anniversary of Joseph Beuys's birth and his influence on countless artists of the second half of the 20th century cannot be overstated. Beuys was a multi-talent who expressed himself in drawings and watercolours, installations, videos and sculptures, performances and Fluxus concerts. He used the most unusual materials such as tea, grease, wax, fruit juices and wood stain for his works of art. He also drew animals such as hares, elk, deer and mythological subjects. Everything he did and made was part of a great idea that everything can be art as long as it contributes to a better society.
It was from this thought that his famous statement 'Jeder Mensch ein Künstler' arose insofar as it can creatively contribute to the construction of the 'Sozial Skulptur' that our society is in fact. Art, politics and nature were closely intertwined for him, which explains, among other things, his involvement with the German Grünen. Although for most Grünen art was something for the elite, in Beuys' view art as a way of thinking, a mentality, was as important to people from all walks of life as food and drink. For example, his participation in the international art event Documenta (1982) consisted of planting 7,000 oak trees in the city of Kassel, in collaboration with the local population. A basalt column was placed next to each tree so that the tree and the column together formed a 'tree monument'. In De Groene Amsterdammer of 14 October 2015, Rudi Fuchs writes about this impressive project:
Great energies are active in the dynamics of human society and in dealing with nature. For Beuys these were material for sculpture. Ultimately, and in essence, the work with the seven thousand oaks is a spatial design, a process of growth and steady regeneration over time. Five years after the first oak, the last one was planted in 1987. The artwork has been growing for almost thirty years and with oak it will continue for hundreds of years. That overwhelming fact is summed up in precisely that linking of oak and basalt. In European culture, the oak is seen as strong and durable – a tree that is long-lived and therefore almost sacred. Basalt is solidified and shrunken lava and thus a rock that has arisen from the heat of the earth itself.
Beuys wanted, as he called it, to free up and stimulate 'human capital' - or the ability to think for yourself and take responsibility, also with regard to the future of the planet. This message, which in the eighties was mocked by many as being naive, is only growing in significance.