A Festival of Painting and 7,000 Oaks

In 1982, Rudi Fuchs calls for a return to the museum but instead has to conquer the city
Joseph Beuys had surprised the public twice by ensconcing himself in the Museum Fridericianum to engage in debates with visitors. In 1972, he had established the “Office for Direct Democracy by Referendum” in order to discuss during 100 days a new kind of creativity and a transformation of society. Five years later, he set up his model of a free uni-versity in the museum’s rotunda to expand the basis for discussion. To symbolize the cycle of ideas, he had installed his “Honey Pump at the Workplace” right next to where the talks took place. He was invited to the documenta again in 1982. Joseph Beuys was one of Rudi Fuchs’ role models, or, as the Dutch-man put it, one of his heroes. For this documenta, Fuchs had called for a return to the museum. He wanted the neo-classical building with its clear-cut white architecture to be the place for unfolding the possibilities of art. But Beuys opposed him. After all, he had thought and discussed in the museum long enough. Now he wanted to venture out into the city, to conquer and change it. For documenta 7, he had developed his project “7000 Oaks”. All over the city of Kassel, he planned to plant 7,000 trees, each accompanied by a basalt column. Again, there was incomprehension and indignation. Resi-dents were particularly upset about the fact that a wedge-shaped stack of basalt columns laid on Friedrichsplatz for several years. This was because one aspect of Beuys’ idea was that the dwindling wedge of columns should reflect the progress of the planting action. Moreover, many were reluctant to see the planting action as an artwork. In the beginning, Beuys himself did not realize how difficult it would be to collect 3.5 million deutschmarks for the action and how long it would take. The action was only completed for the opening of documenta 8, a year after Beuys’ death. Among the heroes Fuchs referred to were painters such as Georg Baselitz, H.D. Hödicke, Markus Lüpertz, Jörg Immen-dorff, Anselm Kiefer and A.R. Penck. It had taken all of them a long time to assert their figurative expressive painting vis-à-vis abstract and minimal art on the art circuit. But at the end of the 1970s, their work bore fruit. In Berlin, Ham-burg, Cologne and elsewhere, a new generation of artists had come into their own. While many of them worked con-ceptually, they were clearly following in the footsteps of the aforementioned artists. Painting was suddenly in vogue, and the so-called Neue Wilde quickly conquered the exhibition venues. This new kind of painting was very controversial at the beginning of the 1980s. But Rudi Fuchs and his team took a clear stance by thrusting the doors wide open for these painters. documenta 7 would become a large festival of painting, the greatest manifestation of painting in the post-Bode era. It was also the first documenta that was carried out without conflicts that became public, and the first documenta whose programme and line-up of artists was kept under wraps prior to the exhibition. documenta 7 was a premiere in another respect as well. For the first time, artworks from the ex-hibition were purchased with special funds from the City of Kassel and the State of Hesse.

Translation: Burke Barrett

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