The environment belongs to us all

We are fortunate in this country to be able to regularly see many works by Joseph Beuys through the auspices of the Artist Rooms programme.

The Anthony d’Offay Gallery was an early exhibitor of Beuys’ works and after the gallery was closed in 2001 Anthony d’Offay went on to build up a collection of a considerable number of artworks by some of the most important contemporary artists. This collection was donated jointly to the National Galleries of Scotland and the Tate in 2008 with the assistance of the National Heritage Memorial Fund, The Art Fund and the Scottish and British Governments.

I, in the last five years or so, have visited solo exhibitions of Beuys’ works (from the Artist Rooms collection) in Bexhill on Sea, Cardiff and Leeds, such is the frequency and geographical spread of such exhibitions.

Below is an image of a poster in the possession of the Artist Rooms collection.

beuys-dictatorship-poster artist rooms.jpg

It is interesting in that it shows Beuys, along with a group of fifty students sweeping the Grafenberger – a small public forest - in Düsseldorf.

In an excellent Phaidon Focus book, simply entitled “Joseph Beuys”, the author, Allan Antliff, succinctly explains that in December 1971 “Beuys and fifty students demonstrated how direct action could work by sweeping paths through a small public forest in the city of Dusseldorf that was threatened by the planned expansion of a tennis club. They marked the trees that were to be cut down, exposing just how devastating the destruction would be. Beuys issued a call to 'Overcome the dictatorship of the parties, save the forest!' and distributed a poster announcing 'Let the rich beware, we will not yield. Universal well-being is advancing’. In an interview he [Beuys} stated: ’Everyone talks about environmental protection, but very few do anything about it, [....] we made our contribution with this action [...] the forest is an environment for all of us, it must be protected [‘’’] The environment belongs to us all, not just to high society.’ The tennis club expansion was shelved.”

The image was also released in a “multiple” of 200 copies, all signed and numbered, and with a title “Save the woods” (Rettet den Wald) .

I am reminded of a time in 2011 when ministers wanted to transfer the power of looking after our forests from the Forestry Commission to the private sector.

Hundreds of people gathered in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, for example, to protest about the possible sale of parts of the public woodland.

Thankfully, the then Prime Minister, David Cameron, was eventually forced to abandon the plans.