© Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn
We're standing in the Joseph Beuys gallery.
Beuys was an artist who worked in many different ways. He was a person who pushed boundaries to the point of eliminating them all together. He thought that anybody could be an artist and anybody could make art out of anything really.
In 1982, Beuys launched a project called 7000 Aichen which translates to 7,000 oak trees. The actual act was planting seven thousand trees throughout the city. And each was paired with a basalt stone.
Beuys had a whole pile of 7,000 basalt stones outside of the museum. And as he planted each tree, he would move the basalt stones to stand next to each tree.
In this gallery there's actually a shovel and on the side of the shovel is imprinted 7000 Aichen. We can imagine it being used to dig a hole and plant a tree.
That project 7000 Oak trees is both an art project and an environmental project. Part of his artwork was his activist practice. And he really felt like art could bring about social change.
Joseph Beuys was born in 1921 and he lived through World War II in Germany. He was actually a fighter pilot and he was part of the Hitler Youth before that. Part of the myth of Joseph Beuys was that he was flying a plane over Crimea and he was shot down.
They wrapped him in felt and fat and nurtured him back to life. Now this myth is a little bit larger than life; we can decide for ourselves whether it's true or not. The idea was that he was sort of reborn out of that experience and it was after that time that he became an artist. So, part of it I think is dealing with this really difficult past both of a nation and of himself and reconciling that. And I think the rest of his career was really focused on how to improve the world in many different ways.