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Collections> Browse Dieter Roth

Dieter Roth
Holdings (29)
4 edition prints/proofs, 1 multimedium, 24 books

Wikipedia About Dieter Roth

Dieter Roth (April 21, 1930 - June 5, 1998) was an Icelandic artist of Swiss German origin best known for his artist’s books and for his sculptures and pictures made with rotting food stuffs. He was also known as Dieter Rot and Diter Rot. The dark undertone and furious, obsessive energy of his work ultimately separated him from many of the more lighthearted Fluxus artists. Perhaps despite himself, he was a fluent draftsman and expert printmaker, and his drawings and prints contained his wild energy within peculiarly virtuosic forms. Compared to the innumerable self-described artists of the last several decades who faked their way through his sort of work, Mr. Roth was the genuine item. Full Wikipedia Article

essay Dieter Roth, Walker Art Center Collections, 2005

Living in Bern, Switzerland, in the early 1950s, Dieter Roth began his career working in a style of geometric abstraction influenced by Swiss Concrete artists, including Max Bill and Richard Paul Lohse. In 1960 he met Swiss artist Jean Tinguely in Basel, soon after Tinguely returned from New York, where he had staged the legendary Homage to New York, a large sculpture that self-destructed in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art. A profound change ensued in Roth’s work thereafter, and his essential influences included not only Marcel Duchamp and Tinguely, but also Kurt Schwitters and Robert Rauschenberg.

Roth remains a singular and iconoclastic figure of contemporary art. During the last half of his career, he made many assemblage sculptures he called “material pictures,” to which he would return many times over a number of years as they grew, mutated, and decayed. These works, among them Tonbild (Sound Picture) (1975–1988), are accretions of objects typically found in an artist’s studio—various paints, brushes, and tools—as well as the miscellaneous flow of the materials of daily life. Tonbild began as a simple watercolor drawing, still visible in the upper right-hand corner, which Roth mounted on a wooden support; he then added a frame, and periodically attached various objects to the surface and to the frame.

Music became an integral part of his assemblage sculptures, adding another dimension of time to the experience of the work. In Tonbild, a small, simple child’s music box was added to the upper left corner. Roth then recorded on a tape player the sounds of the music box, and the tape player was hung from the frame. On another recorder, he made a tape of the first recorder, including the sound of the recorder itself and the sound of the music box. And so on. He intended that the tapes could be rewound and replayed by viewers, but expected that all of these devices for making sound would fail over time; in one case, the German word “kaput” was written by Roth on one of the players. In its current state, the sound of each of the tape players has been preserved as originally recorded, so that initially one hears the single tune of the music box; with each rerecording overlaid one on top of the other, the sound builds to a final crescendo as a harrowing screech.

Transience and order, destruction and creativity, playful humor and critical inquiry, the abject and the beautiful—all these qualities maintain an unrelenting balance in Roth’s work. A sense of the imminently tragic but boundlessly open distinguishes both his art and his life.

    Garrels, Gary. “Dieter Roth.” 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


    artist’s quote artist’s quote Roth, Dieter, 1978

    It’s important to exhibit your mistakes. Man is not perfect. Neither are his creations. I’ve given up using sour milk. Instead I use music. I sometimes fasten a tape recorder onto paintings or objects and have the music pour over the spectator/listener. This creates as certain effect: those who look at the art don’t realize how bad it is when they hear the music. For the music is even worse. Two bad things make one good thing. Dieter Roth, 1978