Ben Vautier is born in Neapel on July 18th, 1935. From 1939 onwards his family lives in Turkey, and after stays in various countries – Egypt, Italy, and Switzerland – he finally settles in Nice in 1949. Vautier attends school there and finally works as errand boy and window cleaner in a bookstore. It is there that Vautier meets Yves Klein in 1955.
From 1958 onward Vautier runs a small store for records, books and stationary in Nizza, then a record shop, that becomes both the center of his artistic activities and a gallery, the façade and interior decorated with a multitude of objects and handwritten commentaries, in itself causing a stir. Soon the store becomes the meeting place of young creative people in the region. It is here that Vautier writes a long letter to Daniel Spoerri in which he develops his »theory of the new and the everything-is-possible in art« (Ausst.-Kat. 2001), which later will serve as a manuscript of his first magazine issue.
Inspired by Yves Klein, Marcel Duchamp and the Nouveax Réalistes Vautier develops an artistic style reminiscent of Dada and founded on a combination of multiple objects and the synthesis of different artistic schools. The written word is of importance in his work. In response to Duchamp’s Ready-mades, objects are placed together in a way also reminiscent of Jean Tinguely. Here that elementary »material« word and the typical writing are already present with which Vautier later gives commands and explanations in bright handwriting which becomes his trademark. »I’m searching for the truth«, »Ben is more important than no one« or »Everything is Art« – these are all examples of a placating, scurrilous, and programmatically confident and egocentric explanation of the artist »Ben«. Based on the idea that the artist’s signature creates the significance of a work, Vautier signs everything action-like »was er nicht ist« (Ausst.-Kat. 2001) – objects, also the works of other artists or even his own body, and finally categorically declares in 1962 that he no longer wants to sign anything.
In 1959 Vautier founds the magazine »Ben Dieu«, in the following year his first solo-exhibition »Rien et tout« takes place in the so-called »Laboratoire 32« in the first floor of his store. A macabre ad in the paper advertises the event with an obituary titled »Ben est mort«, while the post scriptum notes that the store will stay open.
In 1962 Vautier joins the Fluxus movement through the initiative of George Maciunas, and belongs to the leading figures of Fluxus up until 1970. He works on Happenings and Performances, handwriting and signatures, theoretical writings (Lettres à Daniel Spoerri, 1962) and his own exhibition projects (Gallery One, London, 1962), presenting his work at the international Fluxus festivals. Already a central figure in the movement, Vautier advances to become the mentor of the young »figuration libre«, whom he names in 1981 in the context of an article appearing on the exhibition Hervé di Rosas and Robert Combas in »Flash Art«. After a concert night with George Maciunas in Nice, Vautier founds the »Théâtre Total« – it is the begin of the provocative destruction of pianos, the beginning of music Performances (Nam June Paik), and site-specific Actions. Soon Vautier is participating in the first Happenings in France, which include the »Publikumsbeobachtungsaktion« in his piece »Public« at the »Festival del la Libre Expression«, 1964, although he also interprets his own Actions on the border between Happening and exhibition. In 1969 he organizes the first international festival of non-art, called Anti-Art, and increasingly gains international reknown.
In 1972 Vautier takes part in the Documenta 5 (Kunst ist überflüssig) and other international exhibitions. In the same year, he gives up his store in Nice, which is bought up by the Parisian Centre Pompidou in 1975, where the façade is exhibited. Vautier decides to dedicate himself only to art from now on and confirms this in 1973 with the Dekonstruktion des Bildes – a piece consisting of 176 signs that are meant to contain everything that is painting.
In the 1980s, Vautier mainly works on acrylic paintings in which he integrates elements of both writing and comics. He eyes art sceptically, again and again announcing the end of his artistic work. At the same time he returns to old interests, in a book publication he pleads for a multi-ethnic world (»Die erste ethnische Internationale«, 1986). Inspite of this he continues his artistic work in the 80s, designing rooms in the context of different exhibitions (such as »Wie bei mir«, 1987; »Sous le soleil exactement«, 1988).
The following years are determined by different workgroups. Still residing in Nice, Vautier develops the series of Totems (from 1988 onward), sculptures consisting of different household objects that have been mounted onto posts, also created are material Assemblages in bird-like shapes, the Oiseaux (from 1991 onward). But also compilations from earlier Ben- objects with scripts mounted on different images are created. In 1990 Vautier is presented at the Biennale on a Fluxus wall. The artistic work continues to be accompanied by critical comments and publications in his magazine that refers in 1990 to topics such as the Golf war, or the elitist thinking of Parisian intellectuals. New book publications (»L’Ethnisme de A à Z«, 1991) appear alongside critical exhibition projects with which Vautier also refers to the imperialism of the Bush era. Since 1996 he also uses the internet to publish his works, statements and texts.
Ben Vautier lives in Nice.
Ben Vautier – ist das Nichts wichtig?: Ausst.-Kat. Staatl. Museum Schwerin, Museum Ludwig Koblenz, hg. v. Kornelia Berswordt-Wallrabe, Schwerin 2001
Ben Vautier: Ausst.-Kat. Neues Museum Weserburg, Bremen 1998
Ben Vautier, Les Citations: Ausst.-Kat. Musée National d’Art Moderne, Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris 1991
Ben Vautier, zu viel Kunst: Ausst.-Kat. Städtische Galerie, hg. v. K.M. Fischer, Erlangen 1985/87
s. auch: www.ben-vautier.com