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Etude relative à la commande passée par le FRAC Centre d'une oeuvre conçue autour de la personnalité de René Descartes, 1990

©Olivier Martin-Gambier

Etude relative à la commande passée par le FRAC Centre d'une oeuvre conçue autour de la personnalité de René Descartes, 1990

(Benjamin Vautier)
  • Artist (1935)

Benjamin Vautier, known as Ben, was born in Naples in 1935, and arrived in Nice at the age of fourteen.  Since the late 1950s, in the New Realism and Neo-Dadaism movements, Ben came to notice through his eccentric shop which sold bric-a-brac, stationery and records, located at 32, Rue Tondutti de l’Escarène in Nice.  For 20 years, this shop would be an important meeting place where the avant-garde gathered and talked.  This place of production, where all art was called into question, updated the Fluxus state of mind.  Films, concerts, theatrical performances, editions of books and tracts, and performances all hallmarked this movement which would trigger, throughout the world, specific patterns of behaviour demonstrating that “Everything is Art” and, conversely, that “There is no Art”.  For Ben, who was one of the leading protagonists of this movement, what was involved more than ever was a stance against the political, the cultural and the economic which was being asserted here.  Ben’s approach, which inextricably reconciles art and life (“Life is Art”), thus consisted in cleansing art which, for him, has been forever mythologizing the artist’s individuality, glory and “originality”.  His white, almost child-like writing and signature, together with his ironical aphorisms and observations, were put everywhere, on walls, paintings and objects he created, in his installations and by-products.  The work Sans titre/Untitled, commissioned by the FRAC Centre for the study of the Region’s literary heritage, was devised around the personality of René Descartes, born in Indre-et-Loire, the philosopher who founded modern rationalism.  In this work, Ben questioned the role and place of art in our society.  “I’ve had enough of art products, so I have designed a space where it might be possible to call art into question”.  To answer his questioning, he constructed a device consisting of several elements (a PVC board, a stand, a staircase, an armchair, and six paintings).  Everything worked like a sort of mind game where Ben’s questions echo those of other artists and writers.  John Cage:  “Something always happens”; Arthur Cravan:  “All great artists have a sense of provocation”; Picabia:  “Where art appears, life disappears”.  The inscription “I doubt therefore I am” refers to advertising hoardings and thus to thought as slogan, but also to the placards of demonstrators, where the message involves a militant use of words.   Ben introduces nothing less than a space of reflection and dialogue, as physical as it is mental.

Nadine Labedade