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Last weekend, objects conservator Christian Scheidemann posted a photo on Instagram with the caption “DIA’s Beuys basalt stones on 22nd street removed.” The image showed two stones from the Chelsea offshoot of Joseph Beuys’s 7000 Oaks project snuggling on a palette in front of a hole in the sidewalk, presumably where one of the stones had been uprooted.
The comments under Scheidemann’s post ranged from the confused (@lululaxmie1: Whaaaaaa?), to the outraged (@bbartprojects: No!), to the irreverent (@bun_brillo: Beuys Don’t Cry), and finally to the existentially resigned (@clemencia_labin: Christian, things change and we are all part of the process… [wide-eyed emoji] due time we will also be removed…).
Alas, fans (and detractors) of Beuys have nothing to worry about: the removal is a temporary intervention. As Dia confirmed in a statement, “Due to construction on West 22nd Street, several basalt stones from 7000 Oaks have been temporarily removed. 28 stones will remain on view during this time and we look forward to reinstating the full number of 37 stones once construction work on the street is complete.”
Beuys initiated 7000 Oaks in Kassel, Germany, in 1982 as part of documenta VII. The planting of 7,000 trees (of all kinds) accompanied by basalt stones in and around Kassel was accomplished in part through significant financial and logistical support from the Dia Art Foundation, whose co-founder, Heiner Friedrich was close to the artist. The project was completed in 1987, a year after Beuys’s death. The trees and stones in Chelsea — one of several international extensions of the original project — were planted by Dia in 1988 and expanded further in 1996.
For those who are curious about how a public work like 7000 Oaks, which occupies sidewalks that border public streets and private buildings, is managed, Dia adds, “7000 Oaks is jointly maintained by Dia with the New York City Public Design Commission, the New York City Department of Transportation, and the New York City Parks Department. The continued presence of the artwork in Chelsea is supported by the City of New York through these agencies, and Dia works with individual property owners to handle any maintenance issues.” A similar committee of private and public entities oversees the project in Kassel, embodying the direct (if often bureaucratic) political action and environmental care that Beuys championed in the last two decades of his career.