Ben Vautier, Ethnies en lutte, 1979, 1990, Silkscreen on cloth, 118 × 161 cm, Edition of 50
Courtesy of Archivio Conz, Berlin
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  • Silkscreen on cloth
  • 118 × 161 cm
    (46 ½ × 63 ⅜ inches)
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  • Ben Vautier is known for his paintings and textual performances. Of Swiss-Italian origins, he has lived in France most of his life, having moved to Nice at a young age. He approached painting as a self-taught artist, initially engaging with Nouveau Réalisme and eventually finding his mentors in Marcel Duchamp and John Cage. From 1958 to 1973, he ran the second-hand record store, the “Laboratoire 23” in Nice, occasionally referred to as “Galerie Ben Doute de Tout” and, in 1975, renamed “Le Magasine” with the reconstruction of the façade for the Musée National d’Art Moderne Centre Pompidou. A store, but mostly a meeting place and a center for the declaration of total art, it was filled to the brim with objects and his incisive cursive proclamations. The fundamental relationship between art and life—or rather, the firm and reiterating abolition of any conceptual barrier between the two—has always been at the heart of Vautier’s work. He met George Maciunas while taking part in “The Festival of the Misfits” in London in 1962 at the invitation of Daniel Spoerri. From the 1960s onwards, Vautier was involved in Fluxus and became one of its most fervent proponents. In 1963, the “Festival d’Art Total” was organized in Nice, primarily shaped by Vautier on the attitude of a totalizing art with events in the city streets, as well as Happenings and performances. Since the late 1950s, Vautier’s paintings have focused on communication and writing. Unlike the Lettrists, Vautier does not present writing as a means of typographic experimentation but rather as an assertive vehicle of meaning and content. Vautier’s text works, marked by his fervid handwriting, make confrontational statements about society and aesthetics, the artist, and his ego. Examples are early works such as Des Mots (1959) and later works such as L’art est inutile (1967) and KUNST IST ÜBERFLÜSSIG, created in 1972 for documenta 5 the celebrated exhibition of contemporary art curated by Harald Szeemann. The same concept which intersects the witty exaltation of the artist’s role and the ready-made principle is at the heart of the so-called “Appropriations,” works from the early 1960s centered on the artist’s signature affixed to boards, photos, and even real people. Since the 1980s, Vautier has been committed to the promotion of emerging and ethnic minority artists. Today, Vautier’s works are included in the collections of The Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, among others.

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