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An Essay on Joseph Beuys' 'Social Plastic' - centering around 7000 Oaks

  • Journal of History of Modern Art
  • 2001, (13), pp.179-204
  • Publisher : 현대미술사학회
  • Research Area : Arts and Kinesiology > Art > Arts in general > Art History
  • Received : November 30, 2001
  • Accepted : December 31, 2001
  • Published : December 31, 2001

Yookyung Chung 1

1경원대학교

ABSTRACT

As an example of ambitious experiments to realize the concept of 'social plastic', Beuys planned a work, namely <7000 Oaks 1982-1987> , which was to plant 7000 oak trees and to erect basalt columns aside each of the them in the city of Kassel during 5 years between the 7th and the 8thdocumenta. Trying overcoming the spiritual crisis in modern society, Beuys proposed the idea of 'social plastic' which was based on the occidental mysticism and its mo nistic view of world. It is a beuysian version of total art, which owed a lot his contemporary movements of art and their methods of expression. As the name implied, it cares about the commitment of art to the society and the participation of the public with art. Various movements reflecting the skepticism about the 'rationalism' after two World Wars in Europe -anthropological theory of C. Levy-Strauss, Issues on the materiality and the history examined by artists of Arte povera among others- were the social and cultural background of this theory, while its spiritual origines are found in german romanticism and the mysticism. Formally, <7000 Oaks> could be observed as an action, process art, object and environmental sculpture at the same time. It committed to the society with the ecological issue and had the public freely participate with the work itself. Narratively, it reminiscents the cult of the oak trees in the ancient celtic world so that it purposes to overcome the tyranny of Nazi interpretations of the tree in the Iron Cross. It presents the oak as a symbol of life, resurrection and future in contrast with the basalt column which means dead history and past. This study may be concluded by pointing that <7000 Oaks> is an ambivalent work of art in many ways. Surely it is rather a radial action after the theory of 'social sculpture', on the oilier hand, however, it still keeps the traditional iconography of the german romanticist paintings. Likewise, the fact that the artist died before the work was done could make it not only a perfect 'social sculpture' carried out by the public initiative, but also a 'conceptual art', the essence of which considered of the very concept of artist.

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