Joseph Beuys The End of the Twentieth Century

Joseph Beuys, The End of the Twentieth Century 1982–5
Tate. Purchased with assistance from Edwin C. Cohen and Echoing Green 1991. © DACS, 2005

The End of the Twentieth Century 1983-85

This sculpture developed out of Beuys’s environmental concerns, particularly his work 7000 Oaks, which he began in 1982 in Kassel, Germany. For this urban greening project, Beuys proposed planting 7000 oak trees to generate an ‘ecological awakening’ for mankind, as part of his mission to initiate environmental and social change through art. He stipulated that a basalt stone should be placed alongside each tree. Basalt is volcanic in origin, and Beuys associated it with the earth’s ancient energy.

In The End of the Twentieth Century, blocks of basalt lie scattered, like the fallen buildings or tombs of an ancient civilisation. Into each of the slabs, Beuys bored a conical hole to create a metaphorical ‘wound’. He then ‘treated’ it by smoothing and lining the hollow with insulating clay and felt, before re-inserting the plug of stone. These plugged cavities imply the potential for healing, suggesting the possibility of renewal and regeneration at the end of a violent and destructive century. ‘There is something moving, eruptive, living in this stiffened mass’, Beuys said, ‘just as the basalt was pressed once out of the interior of the earth.’