Daniel Spoerri was born Daniel Isaac Feinstein in 1930, in Galati, Rumania. After his father was deported and murdered in a National Socialist death camp, the family fled to Zurich in 1942. Under the mother’s maiden name, they lived in Zurich with a relative, Theophil Spoerri, director of Zurich University. In 1978, Spoerri was awarded a professorship at the Fachhochschule für Kunst und Gestaltung, Cologne, where he taught until 1982. He then accepted a chair at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste, Munich, and taught there until 1989.
While in Zurich, Spoerri completed a commercial apprenticeship and then studied classical dance and pantomime which he continued when he went to Paris in 1952. Between 1954 and 1957, his studies led to an engagement as first dancer at the theater in Bern and two years as assistant director at the theater in Darmstadt. During this time, Spoerri came to know the artists Pol Bury and Jesus-Refael Soto: he was also in close contact with poets Dieter Roth, Claus Bremer, and André Tomkins who were known for their concrete poetry. In 1955, Spoerri himself composed a series of poems and, starting in 1957, became the editor of »material,« a journal for concrete poetry.
In 1959, Spoerri returned to Paris, where he participated in the founding of the legendary edition MAT (Multiplication d’art transformable), an informal institution dedicated to the multiplication and circulation of (movable and moving) art beyond established structures of art commerce. MAT also aimed at the subversion and redefinition of established art concepts. In the following year, Spoerri co-founded the group Nouveau Réalisme, together with Yves Klein, Arman, François Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, and Jean Tinguely. It was the goal of Nouveau Réalisme – as opposed to informal abstraction – to let life itself become a part of art. This approach led to first objects, based on chance, which Spoerri presented in 1960 at the Festival d’Art d’Avantgarde, Palais des Expositions de la Porte de Versailles. Especially his Tableaux pièges / Trap Pictures helped to establish his artistic career. Art works emerged through Spoerri’s capturing of coincidental situations, through creating isolated object ensembles which he fastened to the wall in an upright position. A table top serving as a space for accidentally arranged food leftovers, garbage, plates, and silverware could thus become a picture.
Spoerri’s first solo exhibition took pace in 1961, in the Galleria d’arte of Arturo Schwarz in Milan. During this time, the first Collections emerged. On a painted surface, the Collection de Heröpfelschälerli / Collection of Potato Peelers, for example, assembles more than a hundred different potato peelers (1963 — 79). Spoerri was not interested in the systematic, serial juxtaposition of similar shapes, but rather in the object’s progression and spectrum of variation.
With the stamp Attention, Oeuvre d’art / Attention, Work of Art, also done in 1961, Spoerri for the first time declared food items to be art and, in 1967, coined the labelEat Art for this kind of assemblage. He was led by basic questions as to the relation of nourishment, recipe, and art. When is an object food? What kinds of food preparation are possible? Spoerri now had master pastry makers mould objects of daily life, such as overturned garbage cans, in marzipan and other substances (Poubelle, letzter Gang des Palindromischen Diners / Garbage Can, Last Course of Palindromian Dinner). Bread dough also served him as filling material for his objects, and he had it baked into shoes so that the dough seemed to puff out of the object (Brotteigobjekt / Bread Dough Object, 1972).
In 1968, the »Restaurant Spoerri« opened in Düsseldorf. It was kept open until 1980 by a general manager, and allowed Spoerri to realize his projects. After a meal, guests could leave their often slightly messy places including various utensils, have everything fixed as a Fallenbild / Trap Picture, and take it with them. In the Eat Art Galerie that opened on the second floor of the restaurant in 1970, Spoerri also showed objects of artist friends, among them Joseph Beuys, César, Ugo Dossi, Roy Lichtenstein, or André Tomkins.
Several cook books which Spoerri published in the following years also aimed at leveling the boundaries between art and life, between object and cooking items, between recipe and artistic technique. The first book had already been published in 1967 during a one-year stay on the Greek island of Symi (Gastronomisches Tagebuch. Itinerarium für zwei Personen auf einer ägäischen Insel nebst Anekdoten und anderem Kram sowie einer Abhandlung über die Boulette / Gastronomical Diary: Itinerary for Two Persons on an Island of the Aegean, along with Anecdotes and Other Stuff, as well as a Treatise on the Hamburger). On the island, Spoerri also worked on objects that came to be known under the title »Zimtzauber-Periode« / »Cinnamon-Magic Period.«
In the late 1970s, Spoerri’s engagement with everyday objects and their ephemeral and situational appearance led to an artistic idea of museum and exhibition: Out of the Fallenbild, Spoerri developed a museal place of memory, at first together with Marie-Louise von Plessen in Paris in the context of the opening of the Centre Pompidou, then in Cologne as part of an exhibition, as well as in Salzburg (1982/83) and in Basel (1989). The sentimental relation of specific objects to a thematic complex, to history, or to the place, now became the topic of Spoerri’s encyclopaedic, alphabetical collection of objects at the Musée Sentimental.
Spoerri also continued his work at the theater and, in 1974, designed the stage setting for Heinrich Mann’s »Professor Unrat,« directed by Peter Zadek at the Bochum theater.
In 1971, a first retrospective was dedicated to Spoerri’s works at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, a further retrospective took place at the Centre National d’Art Contemporain, Paris, in 1972. Numerous solo and group exhibitions followed, and Spoerri participated in the Documenta 6 (1977) and in the Sydney and Lyon biennial exhibitions. Among the museums where his works were shown are the Centre Pompidou, Paris (1992), the Museu de Arte Contemporaneo, Barcelona, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (both 1998). More recently, his works were exhibited at the Museum für Moderne Kunst, Vienna, the Museum Kunst Palast Düsseldorf (both 2006), and at the Kunsthalle Mannheim (2007). In 1992, Spoerri designed the restaurant for the Swiss Pavilion at the Expo in Seville.
In 1990, Spoerri settled in Seggiano, Tuscany, near Mount Amiata, on an estate of 16 hectares. With artist colleagues and friends whom he invited for joint projects and exhibitions, he realized and kept enlarging a sculpture garden that is open to the public: Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri. Since 2007, Daniel Spoerri has lived and worked in Vienna and Seggiano.
Daniel Spoerri, Assemblagen und Skulpturen: Ausst.-Kat. Galerie Willy Schoots, Eindhoven 2007
Daniel Spoerri – Prillwitzer Idole. Kunst nach Kunst nach Kunst: Ausst.-Kat. Staatliches Museum Schwerin, Schwerin 2006
Nouveau Realisme – Revolution des Alltäglichen: Ausst.-Kat. Sprengel Museum Hannover, Ostfildern-Ruit 2006
Daniel Spoerri: Ausst.-Kat. Jüdisches Museum Rendsburg, Stiftung Schleswig-Holsteinisches Landesmuseen Schloss Gottorf, Rendsburg 2005
Das große Fressen. Von Pop bis heute: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Bielefeld 2004
Restaurant Spoerri: Ausst.-Kat. Galerie Nationale du Jeu de Paume, Paris 2002
Daniel Spoerri, Anekdotomania – Daniel Spoerri über Daniel Spoerri, Wichtrach/ Bern 2001
Macht der Dinge – Nouveau Réalisme, Pop Art, Hyperrealismus, Ausst.-Kat. Stadtgalerie, Wien 2001
Violand-Hobi, Heidi: Daniel Spoerri, München 1998
Daniel Spoerri, Arbeiten 1966 — 1997: Ausst.-Kat. Kunsthalle Burgdorf, 1997
Hahn, Otto: Daniel Spoerri, Paris 1990