Collections> Browse Ben Vautier

Collections> Browse Ben Vautier

Ben Vautier
Holdings (77)
1 multimedium, 23 multiples, 7 postcards, 2 sculptures, 14 posters, 12 announcements, 3 unique works on paper, 1 newspaper, 11 books, 1 photograph, 2 miscellaneous

Wikipedia About Ben Vautier

Ben Vautier (born on July 18, 1935 in Naples, Italy), also known simply as Ben, is a French artist. Vautier lives and works in Nice, where he ran a record shop called Magazin between 1958 and 1973. He discovered Yves Klein and the Nouveau Réalisme in the 1950s, but he became quickly interested in the French dada artist Marcel Duchamp, the music of John Cage and joined the Fluxus artistic movement in the 1960s. In 1959, Vautier founded the journal Ben Dieu. In 1960, he had his first one-man show, Rien et tout in Laboratoire 32. He is also active in Mail-Art and is mostly known for his text-based paintings; an example of the latter is his work “L'art est inutile. Rentrez chez vous” (Art is Useless, Go Home). He has long defended the rights of minorities in all countries, and he has been influenced by the theories of François Fontan about ethnism. For example, he has defended the Occitan language (south of France). Full Wikipedia Article

essay Ben Vautier, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Ben Vautier was described as 100% Fluxman by George Maciunas, self-appointed founder of the Fluxus movement, which was considered by many to be the most radical and experimental art movement of the 1960s. Intentionally positioning themselves outside mainstream art and art institutions, Fluxus artists created their own venues for performances, exhibitions, and sale of their work. Vautier—often referred to simply as Ben—played a central role in the early evolution of the Fluxus movement and was one of its most active international participants.

In the early 1960s, Maciunas organized a number of performances throughout Europe that carried the hallmarks of what would become classic Fluxus. These events, often presented as “concerts” or “festivals,” brought together a range of experimental artists whose performance activities combined music, poetry, the visual arts, and actions. In 1962 in Nice, Maciunas worked for the first time with Ben, organizer of the “Festival Ben Vautier,” who expanded the format to include street performances in addition to events presented in theater and staged settings. Ben was particularly interested in the techniques of Dada and the ideas of Marcel Duchamp and John Cage. “Without Cage, Marcel Duchamp, and Dada, Fluxus would not exist … ,” he wrote. “Fluxus exists and creates from the knowledge of this post-Duchamp (the readymade) and post-Cage (the depersonalization of the artist) situation.”1

In his Fluxus performances, Vautier used his own body as the primary medium for his art. His events in the streets of Nice included gestures and actions that were surprisingly literal. While writing on a wall, for instance, he inscribed on a large placard “Ben ecrit sur les murs” (Ben is writing on walls). In another performance, he seated himself on a chair in the middle of a street, with a placard at his feet that read “regardez-moi/cela suffit/je suis art” (look at me/that’s enough/i am art). In a later performance, titled Mystery Food (1963), Vautier—dressed in a suit, overcoat, and bowler hat—opened and ate the contents of a can of food whose label had been removed, then ceremoniously brushed his teeth. In subversive disregard of any conventional approach to art, Fluxus humor resided in the incongruities between expectation and presentation. His self-exhibitions abandoned conventional aesthetics, mocked the self-importance of the artist, and encouraged laughter at the self.

In the late fall of 1962, Fluxus-associated artists Daniel Spoerri and Robert Filliou organized an event in London called the Festival of Misfits. During the weeklong festival, Vautier presented himself and his environment as the ultimate Duchampian readymade—a living aesthetic object for the viewer’s contemplation. Calling his work Living Sculpture (1962), he took up residence in the small display window of London’s Gallery One, where he lived for fifteen days, putting himself on view and offering himself for sale for £250. Acting on “the stage of life,” he surrounded himself with everyday objects, including a bed, a table and chair, a gas cooker (for heating food), a television set, a wine glass, a meat grinder, a hand drill, and a teddy bear, along with created objects such as a “potatoes on a wire” sculpture and numerous plaques with Ben’s text. In his trademark cursive handwriting, these text panels consisted of rhetorical questions and whimsical comments, giving equal importance to everything from the kitchen table to a container of dirty water. “Everything that I touch and look at is a work of art,” reads one of his plaques. As the artist engaged in a direct exchange with the audience, this quintessential Fluxus piece bypassed the elitism of the museum and gallery system and blurred the lines between art and everyday life.

“It was real life,” he wrote about Living Sculpture more than thirty years later. “When I did the window, Fluxus was supposed to turn into life and fun. Today, it is art archaeology.”2 In 1993, the Walker Art Center mounted the exhibition In the Spirit of Fluxus. Invited to re-create his Gallery One window, Vautier found a number of vintage objects from the original piece, to which he added numerous replicas based on old film footage and photographs of the 1962 event. He also inserted several new objects, including a boombox and a slide projector that displayed original and updated texts in the window, such as “Does anybody have an idea?” and “Art is a dead story.”

A number of the objects and ideas for objects presented in Ben’s window were later produced by Maciunas as Fluxus multiples, and the Walker’s collection includes key examples of many of these publications as well—from his books and broadsides to the multiplicity of small things such as his Flux Mystery Food (1967), Flux Missing Card Deck (1967/1969), and A Flux Suicide Kit (1967/1969). Taking the notion of Duchamp’s readymades to its logical conclusion, Vautier made up certificates that could authenticate as art such mundane objects as empty wine bottles, dirty water, dust, blank postcards, holes, and even himself. As produced by Maciunas in large editions from inexpensive, easily obtainable materials, these objects reflect one of the most distinctive aspects of Fluxus, the “free license” that artists gave one another in interpreting their work. In the process, they undermined the status of art as a valuable commodity and rewrote the notion of artistic sovereignty and originality.

  1. Ben Vautier, “What Is Fluxus?” Flash Art 84–85 (October–November 1978): 52.

  2. Artist’s statement, 1993 (Walker Art Center Archives).

Armstrong, Elizabeth. “Ben Vautier.” In Bits & Pieces Put Together to Present a Semblance of a Whole: Walker Art Center Collections, edited by Joan Rothfuss and Elizabeth Carpenter. Minneapolis, MN: Walker Art Center, 2005.

© 2005 Walker Art Center