Wolf Vostell is born in 1932 in Leverkusen. From 1950 to 1953 he completes an apprenticeship in photographic lithography, then goes on to study at theWerkkunstschule Wuppertal in 1954. Vostell then continues his studies of painting, graphics and anatomy at the Parisian École National Supérieure des Beaux-Arts and later at the Düsseldorfer Kunstkademie. In 1962 Vostell co-founds the Fluxus movement and publishes the magazine »Décollage«. This bulletin »of new ideas«, which appears in seven issues up until 1969, becomes an important forum for inter-media art of the time.
In the early 1960s Vostell formulates an aesthetic and political understanding of art from the analogy »art equals life – life equals art«: »Everyone is work of art!«(Vostell). Seeing himself in the tradition of Dadaism, Vostell responds to Marcel Duchamps »objet trouvé«, expanding the concept of found objects to include the experience of moments in life, which he views as found artworks (»Vie trouvée«). Vostell’s theory of art, »Décollage« was already formulated in Paris in the 1950s as his artistic principal of reacting aesthetically to current events. It is derived from the concept that contrary to the constructive Collage he understands the »Dé-coll/age« as an aggressive act. In tearing down, blurring and disrupting pre-existent images, in destroying and manipulating information, he aims at a critical awareness of the world of marketing and products.
Vostell has used a multitude of media and materials since the early 1960s. Again and again he draws on television and other mass media, dealing with their political aspects. After visiting Paik’s »Exposition of Music – Electronic Television« in 1963, Vostell shows his own TV-Dé-coll/age in New York. According to him, this was preceded by earlier objects with television after its introduction in Germany in the late 1950s, inspired by Karlheinz Stockhausen’s work in WDR’s electronic studio. Alongside Nam June Paik, who resides in Cologne at this time, Vostell is one of the first artists that dedicate themselves to TV as an artistic medium.
Vostell initiates countless Happenings in cities such as New York, Berlin, Cologne, Wuppertal and Ulm, and collaborates with Nam June Paik and Georg Maciunas in planning the legendary Festum Fluxorum in Wiesbaden. In 1963 he presents the happening 9 Nein Dé-coll/agen, taking place September 14th, 1963, at nine different locations in Wuppertal and organised by Gallery Parnass. With this Happening he develops a form of action-oriented art, its process and relation to the audience becomes central. The Happening advances to an important expression of social criticism of the time. While until this point Vostell only works with the technical distortion of the television program, he now can shape the passing of time himself. The principal of the Décollage is transferred onto the motion image. He has distorted images filmed from the TV screen, recut and transferred to video. Considered one of Vostell’s most showy Happenings is In Ulm, um Ulm und um Ulm herum from 1964, which takes place in 6 hours at 24 locations (including a slaughterhouse, a garbage dump, a military airport, etc.). Here he conducts a concert with three jetplanes while confronting the audience with current events such as the Vietnam War. Destructive disruptions such as those characterizing the principle behind the Décollage, also become creative impetus in Vostell’s acid burned Wischbildern and Schichtenbildern. At the same time Happenings lasting over several days –such as Dogs and Chinese not allowed from 1966, which incorporates the entire New York subway system – relate through space and time to topics of the current time.
The collaboration with the composer Mauricio Kagel leads to the founding of »Labor e.V.« in 1968, which studies accoustic and optic events. Vostell becomes internationally renowned, his works regularly presented, whether in 1968 (Elektronischer dé-coll/age Happening Raum) and 1990 at the Biennale in Venice, 1974 in the context of the first large retrospective in the Musée d’art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, or 1977 at the Documenta 6.
From 1969 onwards, Vostell also uses cement both in his work on individual objects (such as Beton-TV, Paris 1974 — 81) and in the context of spectacular performances in which, for example, cement is poured over cars which are then publicly displayed (Ruhender Verkehr, since 1969). In 1971 he moved into dividedBerlin; for him the city is a symbol of violence and brutality, the Holocaust and the Berlin Wall are central themes in his work. In 1976 Vostell initiates his own museum, the »Museo Vostell Malpartida de Cacéres« in the Extremadura.
Vostell’s Fluxus Zug drives through 16 train stations in North Rhine-Westfalian cities as a mobile museum. Each of the traincars contains an Environment. In one of the cars a »black Fluxus concert« is cued by the entrance of the audience, another visualizes the »isolation of the human« in a cement livingroom, another car visualized the »sensory overflow of the media« with an old Daimler Benz, that is fitted with 20 TVs. »My goal is to compose objects and pictures for a train, that in this context could not be shown in any museum.(…) The train drives from city to city and so can be integrated in the individual art and culture scenes of each place it stays.«(Vostell, 1981).
Vostell’s work continues to reflect a political engagement and relation to current events in the 1980s and 1990s. In his Ereignisbild, which is followed by further versions, he reacts to the the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989. His piece The Fall of the Berlin Wall VI draws a pessimistic resume of German reunification in 1990, and in 1993 Vostell’s largest sculpture La Tortuga is installed in Marl, with which Vostell reflects on Germany’s situation at the end of the 20th Century.
Wolf Vostell primarily lives in Paris, Berlin and Andalusia until his death in 1998. The »Museo Vostell« posthumously opens in the Spanish village Malpartida de Cáceres in the province Extremadura and shows the works of Vostell and other Fluxus – artists.
Dominguez, A. F. (Hg.), Museo Vostell Malpartída de Cáceres 1994
Vostell, Retrospektive zum 60. Geburtstag: Ausst.-Kat. hg. v. Rolf Wedewer, Bonn u.a. 1992
Schmied, W., Die fünf Hämmer des Wolf Vostell, Berlin 1992
Gottberg, D. (Hg.), Vostell. Fluxus-Zug. Das mobile Museum, Berlin 1981
Wolf Vostell, Decollagen, Verwischungen, Schichtenbilder, Bleibilder, Objektbilder 1955 — 1979: Ausst.-Kat. Kunstverein, hg. v. J. Schilling, Braunschweig 1980// Wolf Vostell: Œuvreverzeichnis, Galerie René Block, Berlin 1970