Art show’s radical vision revisited 50 years on

A tree-planting ceremony is being held at Edinburgh College of Art to mark the 50th anniversary of a ground-breaking Festival exhibition.

Joseph Beuys and Jürgen Harten in an ECA studio
Joseph Beuys and Jürgen Harten in an ECA studio (August 1970)

Renowned curator Richard Demarco, who masterminded the hugely influential Strategy: Get Arts show in 1970, will be guest of honour at the event.

The exhibition, which turned the College into ‘a total work of art’, brought many key figures from the post-war art scene to Britain for the first time.

Their provocative takeover of a relatively restrained institution grabbed the attention of the UK press. Most notable among the group, – which was based in Düsseldorf – was radical sculptor Joseph Beuys.

These artists generated a dynamic and creative disturbance in a city where the influence of the pre-war Scottish Colourists still held sway.

The artist Merilyn Smith recalls: “The academic siting was to prove an ideal arena for challenging authority. Artists, students, administrators and public all had to make decisions and take sides.”

Fitting tribute

Now an oak sapling, sourced from a Beuys-inspired conservation project at Loch Lomond, will be planted next to a rock excavated from Edinburgh’s Salisbury Crags, in homage to the 1970 show.

Plans to mark the 50th anniversary last year with a series of events and publications were postponed because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The tree planting marks the official launch of SGA50, which includes a new website, poster display and the installation of 25 photo-panels in the Main Building of ECA.

The launch coincides with a new publication of Strategy: Get Arts. 35 Artists Who Broke the Rules by ECA Senior Lecturer Dr Christian Weikop, who specialises in Modern and Contemporary German Art.

Double celebration

The event will also mark the centenary year of Beuys’ birth. His experiences of Scotland had a profound influence on his work and returned several times to collaborate with Demarco.

The sapling and the rock, which was excavated by Historic Environment Scotland, reference Beuys’ documentary project 7000 Oaks—City Forestation instead of City Administration (1982–87). Each tree that was planted as part of the visionary project was accompanied by a stone marker.

We are celebrating that Edinburgh College of Art was the stage where pioneering artist Joseph Beuys had his UK debut with his magnificent contributions to Strategy: Get Arts. We hope that the events and publications will introduce our students and visitors to a pivotal moment in ECA and Edinburgh Festival history, which may inspire further research in years to come.

Dr Christian WeikopProject lead for SGA50

Related links

SGA50 website

35 Artists Who Broke the Rules

The exhibition’s impact

Edinburgh College of Art


Photo credit: George Oliver