Tuesday, January 3, 2023

Willem De Ridder, RIP


Willem de Ridder died last week after a brief illness, on December 29th. The Dutch artist, anarchist, storyteller, publisher, composer, and "chairman" of Fluxus for Northern Europe was 83. His career stretched over seven decades, mostly avoiding the trappings of the art world (which has yet to publish an obituary for him). 

De Ridder graduated from the Academy of Arts in Den Bosch, and shortly afterwards decided to stop painting. After meeting George Maciunas and Nam June Paik in the early sixties, de Ridder was invited to run the Fluxus European Mail-Order House. 

"An enormous crate arrived by freight, delivered to my house," de Ridder told me in 2002. "There was a huge amount of things from Maciunas: suitcases, boxes, all kinds of work. I thought, "Shit, now I have to do something about it." So I arranged all the various editions beautifully and had a friend of mine take a photograph of the display. My girlfriend [Dorothy Meijer] at the time sat in the middle of display. The photo looked so great that I distributed it and made a catalogue of the work, which I also heavily distributed. It listed all of the Fluxus works for sale, with prices and a description. Of course, I didn’t sell anything. Not a single thing."

A recreation of the work (with a cardboard cut-out of Meijer) is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York (above). 

Together with Wim T. Schippers, de Ridder organized Dutch Fluxus festivals in 1963 and 1964 and, later, the Wet Dream Festival, the first international erotic film festival. 

The latter was a spin-off from Suck: The First European Sex Paper, which he ran as part of the SELF group (Sexual Egalitarian and Libertarian Fraternity)1. Only eight issues were produced over a five year period of the periodical now called "an experimental amalgam of sexual liberation, feminist ferment, alternative visual culture, and literary ambition."2 De Ridder provided an office for the newspaper, and spearheaded the graphic design and artistic content, tapping his network for contributions by John Giorno, Valerie Solanas, Otto Muehl, Thomas Bayrle, Gunter Rambow, Ed van der Elsken, and others. 

Previously, the artist had founded the music newspaper Hit Week, which published 32 issues between 1965 and 1969. He also co-founded the "counter culture" nightclubs Provadya and Paradiso.

“When I started at Paradiso, everyone could just jump on stage. And if you didn’t know what was going to happen, we didn’t either,” De Ridder recalled in 2018. “In no time it was packed and they came from all over the country.” The venue - operational for over fifty years - has hosted performances by Adele, Arcade Fire, David Bowie, James Brown, Nick Cave, Duran Duran, Guns ‘n’ Roses, Hole, Ice Cube, Curtis Mayfield, Willie Nelson, Nirvana, the Pixies, Prince, The Ramones, The Rolling Stones, Sonic Youth, U2, Frank Zappa, and countless others.

De Ridder collaborated with performance artist and porn star/activist4 Annie Sprinkle, with whom he was also romantically involved, from 1978 to 1980. 

A consummate story-teller, with a captivating voice, de Ridder hosted a weekly radio show on Amsterdam radio station Radio 100 for over twenty years. 

“I was only interested in going into unknown territories, the insecure field of life. Most people are terrified of it. When I brought audiences into that state during my performances, there was panic, but there was always an idiot who said: “It’s ART!” The audience was immediately relieved. Oh… it’s art. Thank God. We were getting scared. The word “art” destroys all life. That’s why I step out of it. Museums are a sort of mausoleum.”
- Willem de Ridder 5

1. Other members of SELF included William Levy, Jim Haynes, Germain Greer and Heathcote Williams. 
2. Alison M. Gingeras, Document Journal. 
4. In 1996, Annie Sprinkle became the first porn star to get a doctoral degree, earning a PhD in human sexuality from the Institute for Advanced Study of Human Sexuality in San Francisco.
5. Flash Art, 2016

[Willem de Ridder, top right, with Ben Patterson, Geoffrey 
Hendricks, Philip Corner, Eric Andersen and Alison Knowles]

[Willem de Ridder and Ben Patterson at CultClub, 2012]

[Willem de Ridder, Annie Sprinkle and unknown couple] 

[Willem de Ridder and Myrto Semmoh in 2018]

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