Ben Vautier obituary


The French conceptual artist Ben Vautier – identified merely as “Ben” – who has died aged 88, was finest identified for his Écritures – trademark painted epigrams in a easy cursive script on a monochrome background.

Immediately recognisable with their daring messages to the world, typically humorous, typically political, at all times thought-provoking, his “writings” shout out from the canvas as if craving to be heard. “In my Écritures it’s not the aestheticism that counts,” Ben mentioned in 2010, in dialog with the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. “I write to be learn and understood. It’s the that means that has to return throughout.”

The primary Écriture, created in 1953, mentioned, merely: “Il faut manger. Il faut dormir” (“It’s important to eat. It’s important to sleep”). It was an affirmation of life and the start of a collection that might outline his oeuvre for greater than 70 years.

And, escaping from the partitions, these mini-manifestos, which originated within the experimental tradition of the Good faculty of the Fifties, and Fluxus motion of the 60s, are actually ubiquitous throughout France, to be discovered on postcards, stamps, wine labels, stationery and rucksacks.

Following Ben’s demise, President Emmanuel Macron mentioned: “On our kids’s pencil instances, on so many on a regular basis objects and even in our imaginations, Ben had left his mark, made up of freedom and poetry, obvious lightness and overwhelming depth.”

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Ben Vautier in his backyard in Good, 2010. {Photograph}: Luc Castel/Getty Photographs

Born in Naples, Italy, Ben was the son of an Occitan French-Irish mom, Janet (nee Giraud), and a Swiss father, Max-Ferdinand Vautier. His grandfather was the Swiss painter and illustrator Marc Louis Benjamin Vautier. Following his dad and mom’ divorce, Ben lived along with his mom in Switzerland, Turkey, Egypt and Italy earlier than they settled in Good aged 14.He left the town’s Lycée du Parc Impérial at 16 and labored at a bookshop, Le Nain Bleu, the place he first found volumes on the artists who would affect him. Interviewed final yr for Forbes journal and requested about his early creative encounters, Ben mentioned: “I picked solely artists who shocked me as a result of I used to be searching for one thing new, so I began with the summary painters: Poliakoff, Soulages and Picasso. The shock of Marcel Duchamp got here from a gathering with Arman, and after that, I opened as much as the chance that every thing was artwork.”

“Every little thing is artwork” grew to become his lifelong mantra, along with the opposite driving precept for Ben that “artwork have to be new”. Elsewhere he mentioned “My artwork will likely be an artwork of appropriation. I search to signal every thing that has not been signed. I imagine that artwork is within the intention and that it is sufficient to signal.” When the Italian artist Piero Manzoni died in 1963, Ben signed his demise certificates and declared it a murals. And, following the delivery of Ben’s daughter, Eva, in 1965, he signed her, as a brand new creation and a “residing sculpture”.

Between 1958 and 1973 he ran a store, Laboratoire 32, promoting secondhand data, cameras, books and different publications. The area grew to become a favorite assembly venue for artists of the Good faculty, comparable to Yves Klein, César and Arman. N’importe quoi (Simply something), an set up composed of the store’s inside, was acquired by the Centre Pompidou in 1975 and stays a testomony to these early years in Good.

In 1962 Ben had come to London as a part of the competition of Misfits to carry out a geste (taking place) that concerned spending two weeks residing and sleeping within the window of Gallery One in Grosvenor Sq., Mayfair. That yr he met George Maciunas, founding father of Fluxus, the Dada-influenced motion whose members, together with Yoko Ono, Joseph Beuys and John Cage, engaged in experimental performances and occasions.

Fluxus inspired a “do-it-yourself” strategy in its creative creations, valuing simplicity above complexity. Ben’s work embraced this strategy and made the motion’s aesthetic clearly seen to the general public, in artwork galleries and past.

Placing works embody the self-referential Je suis clear (I’m clear, 1970), a print version in black writing on a see-through perspex background; and If artwork is in all places it is usually on this field (1972), with inscriptions in French, English, Italian and Nissart (a subdialect of Provençal), adorning 4 sides of a giant plastic dice.

Initially promoting as multiples in restricted editions at his store within the 60s, his productions quickly moved into the mainstream, making his signed works out there as mass-produced “Ben”-branded objects. He believed that there was “no artwork with out ego”.

His works are actually in non-public and public collections worldwide, together with MoMA in New York and the Stedelijk museum in Amsterdam. Retrospectives have been held on the Musée d’Artwork Contemporain in Lyon (2010), Museum Tinguely, Basel (2015) and Museo Universitario de Arte Contemporaneo, Mexico (2022).

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Ben Vautier poses at his retrospective exhibition in Lyon, 2010. {Photograph}: Abaca Press/Alamy

Arriving as a customer in 2000 to Ben’s house in Saint-Pancrace, within the heights above Good, which he shared along with his second spouse, Annie Baricalla, an artist whom he married in 1964, I used to be struck by the amount and number of work that lay inside and within the grounds of the home.

Commenting on this cuckoo-in-the-nest amongst a row of bourgeois residences that seemed like a mixture of effective artwork gallery, circus and junkyard, Ben confided with a chuckle: “Mes voisins me detestent.” (“My neighbours hate me.”)

He was a champion of minority languages, campaigning particularly for Occitan – the tongue of southern France – and others, together with Alsatian, Basque and Corsican, to be recognised in a rustic whose solely official language is French. He reasoned that by preserving the vernacular, one can protect the tradition and dynamism of its individuals.

Ben’s first marriage, to Jacqueline Robert, in 1959, led to divorce. Following Annie’s demise on 5 June, “unwilling and unable to dwell with out her”, based on an announcement by his kids, “Ben killed himself a number of hours later”.

He’s survived by his daughter, Eva, and his son, François, from his marriage to Annie.


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