Daniel Spoerri’s career has been connected to both Fluxus and Nouveau Réalisme, two of the many groups that emerged in the 1960s whose stated goals included nudging “high art” and everyday life a little bit closer together. Their art required viewers to pay attention to activities and objects that are often overlooked or taken for granted, and even to think of them as artful (that is, valuable and beautiful)—things such as eating a meal, sweeping the floor, shaving, or walking. This type of work is built on two concepts that had provoked radical shifts in twentieth-century artistic practice: Marcel Duchamp’s proposal that context is a key factor in designating something as art, and John Cage’s abdication of total artistic control through the use of chance. Spoerri united all these ideas in his best-known body of work, the Snare Pictures—sculptural works made by “snaring,” or fixing in place, chance arrangements of objects (in drawers or boxes, on tables), then displaying them on the wall as paintings. One waggish reviewer described them as the kind of things that might have resulted from a meeting between Pierre Bonnard and the garbageman,1 an apt joke that suggests their connection to the pleasures of domestic life, their position as both sculpture and (still-life) painting, and the axiom that one man’s trash might be another man’s treasure.
Spoerri made his first Snare Picture in 1960 and soon after began focusing his work on food, especially the preparation and consumption of meals—activities that are fundamental to life but also often sensual, sociable, and pleasurable. Many Snare Pictures were made from the remnants of meals he cooked and served to friends, including a group of thirty-one that resulted from a series of dinner parties he threw for New York artists and art-world figures. Shown in 1964 under the title 31 Variations on a Meal, the series included a piece made from the leftovers of a meal eaten by artist Bruce Conner, who later recalled the evening: “The settings had the same silverware, dishes, and glasses, napkin on each one… . I chose to eat bread and red wine and refused all the enticing, well-prepared delicacies that Daniel prepared. I did not use any glass on the setting except for the wine glass… . I did take the heart-shaped ashtray/candle holder from the center of the table and move it to my setting. I kept changing everything and then stopped when everyone had finished eating. I left the apartment immediately.”2
Conner’s story hints at the self-consciousness imposed by the knowledge that your meal might end up as someone else’s work of art, but clearly chance played a large role: Spoerri began the work, but it was completed by the diner. The contrast between the immobility of the objects and the vitality of the activity that had produced them was, for Spoerri, the source of a certain “malaise” or tension, which he enjoyed.3 Above all, he cautioned viewers, “Don’t take my Snare Pictures as works of art. They are information, provocations, indications for the eye to see things it normally doesn’t notice. Nothing more… . And anyway, what is art? Maybe a way and a possibility of living.”4
“Daniel Spoerri,” Artnews 64, no. 5 (September 1965): 19. ↩
Bruce Conner, correspondence with Joan Rothfuss, February 3, 2001 (Walker Art Center Archives). ↩
Daniel Spoerri, “À propos des Tableaux-Pièges” (1960), reprinted in Daniel Spoerri, Hommage à Isaac Feinstein, exh. cat. (Amsterdam: Stedelijk Museum, 1971), 13. Trans. Joan Rothfuss. ↩