Sunday, July 10, 2016

Ben Vautier | Theatre d'Art Total

Ben Vautier
Theatre d'Art Total
New York City, USA: Fluxus, 1967
9.5 x 12 x 1.5 cm.
Edition size unknown

“Did I do any Fluxus editions?", Ben Vautier asked in a telephone interview I conducted with him in 1994. "I think Maciunas did them all, for us. I used to send him ideas and I would never know what would happen with them. My ideas were more artistic, and then they always ended up in plastic boxes.” Several other artists have claimed to have not even seen the Fluxus boxed works attributed to them until many years later.

However, this edition inverts that paradigm. Vautier had these cards produced himself, and sent them to Maciunas in a clear plastic bag (the way they appeared in the subsequent Flux Year Box 2, see above). So they were typeset and printed without Maciunas' involvement, and even the label design is an almost entirely unaltered image of Vautier's vehicle, containing none of Maciunas' signature typographic flourishes. Apart from a copyright credit (to Fluxus, notably) all of the text that appears was painted by Vautier directly onto the automobile. It may be the Fluxus edition with the least input from Maciunas.

The box falls into the category of Fluxus multiples that aimed to provide the buyer with the "complete works" of an artist. Other examples include Hi Red Centre's Bundle of Events, George Brecht's Wateryam, and Meiko Shiomi's Events and Games. Vautier called the collection "my complete theatre, from 1964 on..." but the Fluxus Performance Workbook has compiled dozens of others seemingly not included in the boxes, which admittedly varied. The example held in the Harvard collection contains thirty cards, whereas a beat up copy in the Fondazione Bonotto collection contains only twenty-two. The above tiled image, for example, is missing "i did not kill george brecht during the fluxus festival, 1964", a card pictured in an example from Jon Hendricks' Fluxus Codex. 

The cards themselves address a series of concerns central to Vautier's thinking at the time.  These include destruction ("The Destruction of All Art is Art Too, Please Tear This Up"), suicide ("The only piece that lasts forever is death - kill yourself"), plagiarism and influence ("Since 1958 I copy, that's why I signed copying in 1958"), found materials ("Pick up anything at your feet)", the artist's ego ("Whenever you see art think of Ben...", "Art = Ben", "Just Look at Me"), self-doubt and the futility of art ("It's all nonsense", "I Doubt Everything") and his myriad contradictions ("Only I Ben do real anonymous art", "I Sign Everything", "I do not sign anymore").

Future multiples would re-address many of these ideas, including the matchbook to burn museums, the suicide kit and the God box and bottle (below).

The signing of intangible things (the truth, politics, copying) can be traced back to Yves Klein's signing the sky and the Living Sculptures of Piero Manzoni. In 1947, at age 19, Klein and his friends Arman and (composer) Claude Pascal were on a beach in the south of France and decided to divide the world between themselves. Arman chose the earth, Pascal chose words and Klein selected the sky. He then signed the sky in what he considered to be his first art work.

Vautier moved to Nice a couple of years later, and in the late-fifties opened a record store called Laboratoire 32. The boutique quickly became a meeting place and exhibition area where the principal members of what was to be called the Ecole de Nice (School of Nice) got together: César, Arman, Martial Raysse, and Yves Klein. Vautier became close with Klein and set out to sign whatever remained of the world - God, time, chickens, kicking, and perhaps most notably, holes (tunnels, manholes, assholes, drinking straws, etc. - see bottom of post).

The card "I did it in 1949" parodies the rush to be first in the contemporary art world, and suspicion of bogus biography (many Fluxus artists have expressed doubts about some of the dates in Yoko Ono's Grapefruit, for example). The card in which he confesses his copying illustrates his reverence to George Brecht (Cage and Duchamp are widely held as significant precursors to Fluxus, but Brecht was Vautier's contemporary).

Lastly, the boxed work introduces Vautier's concept of "Total Art" with the "Total Art Theatre: Just Look at Me", "Total Art Sculpture: Pick Up Anything At Your Feet", and "Total Art Poetry: Just Say Anything" cards. Vautier would continue performing mundane acts such as eating and sleeping as "total art" works for many years. 

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