Swiss Artist, Writer and Sculptor
Summary of Daniel Spoerri
When Daniel Spoerri first collected the remnant cups, plates, utensils, and even nicotine-stained ashtray that had contributed to his most recent meal and glued them onto a board hung sideways on the wall, he was not only snubbing the early 1960s art world's new obsession with abstraction, he was also planting himself firmly at the center of an exciting new art movement centered on real life experience. As a founder of Nouveau Réalisme, with an existentialist compulsion to directly appropriate reality, that of his self and others, he pioneered the concept of memorializing singular moments of time and its literal documentation into humorous works of art. Later, as founder of the Eat Art movement, he would challenge the public to reconsider staid attitudes and freshen their perspectives surrounding food. His performance-based events and passion for audience participation celebrated the everyday action of eating by elevating it to an art form, decades before famous chefs and food networks started infiltrating our current food-obsessed collective consciousness.
- Spoerri's signature method of appropriating reality was through his "snare-pictures," in which he would take the immediate objects in the surrounding environment of any given moment in time (most famously meal contents) and "freeze" them in place into assemblage works. This presentation of objects from real life as medium modified prior boundaries of traditional representation in art.
- An early education in dance and theater provided Spoerri a flair for the dramatic that has spread itself across his entire oeuvre, from his love of "autotheater" in which spectators are turned into active participants, to his appreciation for Kinetic Art which evokes viewer engagement, to his large banquet happenings in which he reveled in cooking and communing with guests.
- The artist was a huge contributor to the idea of multiples, or making numerous, cheaply reproduced works of art that could animate, shift, change, move, or morph in visual or physical dialogue with the viewer's participation over time.
- In similar ways that Spoerri enjoyed toppling a viewer's traditional perspectives of reality through object assemblages, he thoroughly enjoyed tweaking a person's notions of food. He felt food, the cooking and eating of it, was the purest form of art with endless potentials. He said, "If all art forms were to disappear, the noble art of cooking would remain."
- Spoerri's childhood, in which he lost his father to execution by the Nazis, left him feeling rootless. He has said, "Everyone has something that drives them through life. Being without a native land is the engine of my own." Truly, in the course of his career, his artwork has become deeply rooted in showcasing his own particular life, formulating a map of its own, and turning his moments concrete.
Progression of Art
This is among the first "snare-pictures" Spoerri created in his hotel room of rue Mouffetard upon arriving in Paris in 1959. Here, we find the remnants of a meal: plate, bowls, glass, spoons, knife, paper tissue, and a glass bottle, all adhered to a board. There is also an ashtray, matches, and a book. The novel approach was intended to generate a feeling of surprise and discomfort in the viewer, toppling normal expectations about what art might consist of and providing a transformed perspective on an everyday activity we normally take for granted.
Spoerri has often described the snare-pictures as objects, which are found in random orderly or disorderly situations, which are then mounted on whatever they are found on (table, box, drawer, etc.) in the exact composition they are found in. The whole piece is then hung like a traditional painting on the wall. This is exactly what the artist did here. Like Duchamp's ready-mades or Surrealist's unconscious-derived assemblage, Spoerri honored ordinary objects with the lofty status of "work of art." He also defied laws of gravity, normalcy, and the laws of art itself by appropriating a piece of reality and transforming it into a painting/sculpture/relief. The effect purposely provokes the viewer, confronting him/her with a fresh perspective of something so common as to have been previously unnoticeable.
Like Rauschenberg who created Bed in 1955, the artist desacralized art by using everyday life as fodder, especially the prosaic action of eating. Here, Spoerri meets the idea of his Nouveau Réalist peers that art is life. However, with his snare-pictures, he adds the notion of time and space. He often states that these works steal and capture a moment or a portion of life in time. A specific moment is indeed physically frozen, and at the same time that this moment is preserved, it is also dead. As John G. Hatch tells us, the artist has often reminded critics "the trapping of a moment of existence is the death of that moment." However, the snare-picture, like photography or a still life, immortalizes that very moment in time, suggesting a sense of timelessness as well.
This particular work is also importantly autobiographical, giving us a glimpse of the artist through its items. When the Tate Gallery acquired it, Spoerri had the opportunity to explain, "the location was Hotel Carcassonne, 23 rue Mouffetard, Paris 5ième, a tiny hotel room, 'au mois' where I had no table to eat [from], and so I took bits of hardboard and in this case the back of [a] Vasarely multiple." The multiple had been part of the artist's MAT Edition project. These details indicate the life of a struggling and busy artist. The book Dichtungen in Prosa by the Swiss poet Robert Walser was given to Spoerri by his uncle Theophile Spoerri who was like a father to him. It is still one of the artist's favorite books and shows here the strong bond between the uncle and his nephew. This allows Spoerri to acknowledge his uncle and maybe to fix his whole unsettling childhood on a piece of board. He states: "I think that actually it's a question of territory. Because I had lost my territory since childhood, and even during childhood, I never had a territory. [...] I was a Romanian Jew, evangelical in an orthodox country, whose father was dead, without being certain that he was really dead. I swear to you, the first things I glued down were all that, that feeling."
Glass, paper, ceramic, metal and plastic on wood - Collection of the Tate, United Kingdom
Repas Hongrois, Tableau-piege
The Repas Hongrois is the result of one of the most famous performances of Spoerri. During the tenure of his show "723 utensils of cooking" at the galerie J in 1963, Spoerri transformed the space into a restaurant. Each evening, he prepared a meal that was served by an important art critic to an unknown party. Each day, that table was trapped and glued by the guests themselves, and put on the wall of the gallery for exhibition. This Repas Hongrois was served on March 9, 1963 by critic Jean-Jacques Leveque. We can see plates, silverware, glasses, napkins, glass bottles and actual leftovers.
The collective artwork presented a humorous and innovative twist in its live satirical portrait of the art world. For the first time, Spoerri had invited the public to play a part normally reserved for either artist or critic, in which they became both. The gallery transformation into restaurant became a metaphor for the contemporary art scene. Radically, the guests were ultimately the ones who decided on the destiny of the work. As John G. Hatch states, "The success or failure depends on the consumption of the meal, on the preference of 'taste' of its consumers, and the word of mouth that follows."
This first experience was a large success and many banquets and dinners followed. By then, food had become more central to Spoerri's practice.
L'optique moderne (Modern Optics)
This work is the first collection of variants of an object that Spoerri created in his career. It consists of 45 different styles of glasses and optical devices randomly numbered, labeled, and compiled on folding wooden boards. It was originally conceived to be an interactive installation. Viewers were supposed to try on the different glasses and experience modifications of vision. What remains of the work today seems to be slightly different from the initial artwork where a death mask of Voltaire was hung over the display.
Spoerri began the project in 1961 in Copenhagen. Many of the elements were found or donated. The artist bought several in flea markets, and many were given to him by fellow artists such as Meret Oppenheim who famously contributed the Venetian blind version. Art History Professor Jill Carrick states with reason that although authored by Daniel Spoerri, L'Optique Moderne is in many ways a collaborative work. Among the contributors, she counts several key European and American Fluxus artists like Ben (Vautier), Alison Knowles, Emmett Williams, Robert Filliou, and Robin Page. Because of this, it becomes an amazing documentation of twentieth century artists and artistic styles. For example, Carrick mentions a pair of orange and tan glasses sprouting soft animal fur that Spoerri fabricated in homage to Meret Oppenheim and to her iconic Surrealist object Untitled, the fur-covered tea cup. Another pair refers to Yves Klein and was created by artist Ben. They consist of round blue-lensed glasses in gold-colored plastic frames and, for Carrick, allude not only to the famous International Klein Blue but also to Klein's grandiose claims to "see," "sign," and "own" the blue sky.
The work is also a direct reference to Marcel Duchamp: Spoerri was interested in the Dadaist's readymades as well as his optical experiments on illusion.
The collection of old and new devices was also a way for Spoerri to comment on the ideas of progress and modernity. The evolution of an object was more important to him than a mere collection of similar objects, Spoerri once stated. The work also extended his intentions to document periods of time through the objects associated with it, thus perpetuating his idea that life and its ephemera are the greatest forms of art.
In 1963, Spoerri in collaboration with his friend Francois Dufrene recorded all the eyeglasses in a book of photographs of himself trying on several. The book called L'Optique moderne. Collection de lunettes présenté par D.S. avec en Regard d'Inutiles Notules par François Dufrêne was published by Fluxus under the direction of artist George Maciunas, and would accompany the work from then on.
Wooden board with optical devices and objects from various artists - Mumok Museum, Vienna
Spiegelobjekt (Mirror Object)
On two mirrors attached by a hinge to open like a book, the artist glued on one side several different objects, and on the other side, their identical twins in the exact same position. Most of the items are common household objects and include hangers, blocks, coins, napkins, dolls, and strainers. Each item reflects itself three-dimensionally, but also on the mirror where it is affixed and on the facing mirror.
This work was a contribution by Spoerri to his groundbreaking MAT editions project, which explored both the concept of multiplication and creating cheap, transformable artworks. The use of mirrors allowed him to multiply and change the artwork ad infinitum. In addition to the several layers of reflection created by the objects and the mirrors, when the angle between the two mirrors is changed, it produces new configurations, hence whole new artworks. Owners of the work could actually choose the angles of the mirrors to double the reflections. Spoerri also constructed variants and series of this Spiegelobjekt using the same mirror strategy, sometimes even using the same objects but changing their orientation.
At the same time, these works allowed for a clever wink and a nod by the artist toward himself and at his own snare-pictures, highlighting the easy reproducibility of components and the potential for mass production. Questioning the status of art as a luxury commodity, the new format of the multiple as described by the MAT editions was largely embraced by Spoerri and his contemporaries. Curator Meredith Malone points out the important role that the MAT editions played as a precursor to the international surge of interest in the multiple in the 1960s and 1970s.
Mirrors on hinged wood boards with pairs of found objects - Published by Edition MAT / Galerie Der Spiegel, Cologne
Magie a la noix
This sculpture is part of an overall series that Spoerri created while he was living on the Greek island of Symi, featuring assemblages of material found on the island. Here, pieces of wood, scrap metal, and rusty springs are bonded by a grid of wire, creating an ethnographic-like piece. The spiral on the left looks like a crank or a lever to operate the object. As with his noted project Topography of Objects, this collection was accompanied by a book explaining how the different objects were gathered and assembled, and what kind of memories and associative thoughts they triggered. Hence, Spoerri retells the "biography" of each object.
As the artist explains in the book, each work of the series is the result of a combination of form, color, and consistency that "demanded to be joined to [each other]." He called this creation process "Magie a La Noix," which he translates as "mumbo-jumbo." It refers to "the alleged fetish character of the objects" and to the Surrealists who collected them as well and sought the origins of art in magic. At the same time, Spoerri describes these pieces as "archaeological" underlining the scientific and historical aspect related to objects. Historian Thomas Gallant adds that Spoerri redefines "history as a field filled with affects, emotive memory, chance encounters, accumulations of concrete materials as well as ceaseless miracles of discovery." As the artist assigns different characteristics and personal connections, he also repositions the object into one of altogether new uniqueness.
This concept of uniqueness contradicted the idea of multiples that Spoerri had cherished prior to taking his thirteen-month Grecian respite from the art world and peers, yet the relegation of the common found object, garbage, and other junk like bones and dead animals, to the rank of fetish, religious, and artistic object played well into the spirit of his signature creative motivations.
Museum Schloss Morsbroich, Leverkusen, Germany
Dejeuner sous l'Herbe, Jouy-en-Josas
On April 23, 1983, Spoerri organized a feast on the property of Montcel in the French city of Jouy-en-Josas. 120 members of the French cultural intelligentsia were invited to dine together at a long table. While the guests were eating, a crane nearby was digging a ditch of the same size as the table, 40 meters long. After the entrees, guests were asked to stop mid-meal, and place their tabletops into the ditch without moving any of the plates, glasses, silverware, bottles, etc. These tables were then covered again with dirt. After that, the guests finished their meals, cheese, and desserts, without tables. This event was titled "Dejeuner sous l'Herbe," or, "The Luncheon Under the Grass," a play on words nod to Manet's painting The Luncheon on The Grass.
In this work, one can find most of the markers of the career of Spoerri: food, objects, happening, interactivity with the public, and of course the snare-pictures. It may have been a way for the artist to put an end to the snare-pictures by burying the last one. Some critics also saw in those days the end of a certain generation in art. There may also be an underlying homage by the artist to his father, whose body upon execution in 1941, was thrown into a ditch with 13,000 Jews killed during that pogrom.
Spoerri's additional idea was to create a later event that would represent the "first excavations of Modern Art." This materialized in 2010, when the site was officially reopened under the auspices of the Ministry of Culture by professional archaeologists. The excavations, attended by Spoerri, were documented, archived and memorialized on film. Everything was then recovered again until 2016, when a new excavation took place. Both excavations received enthusiastic media coverage, during which Spoerri produced bronze moldings of the objects and tables. Although exhibitions were organized around the excavations, Spoerri insisted that every single object remain on site. He did not want any of the items to appear within the art market.
Today, the remains of the big feast are still buried on the property, which has changed ownership several times rendering the current status of the artwork and its perpetuity uncertain.
Biography of Daniel Spoerri
Daniel Spoerri was born Daniel Isaac Feinstein on March 27, 1930 in Galati, Romania on the banks of the Danube. His mother was Lydia Spoerri, a Swiss citizen living in Romania. His father, Isaac Feinstein was a Romanian Jew who converted to Christianity. He was a respected leader at the Norwegian Mission for Israel in Galati, and preached actively for the conversion of Jews to Christianity. As a result, young Spoerri was raised as a German-speaking Lutheran. He grew up in a country that witnessed the gradual rise to power of the Nazi party and its alliance with Nazi Germany.
Starting in 1940, Romanian Jewish people suffered persecution. Despite his conversion, Isaac was not spared and in June 1941, during the Lasi pogroms, he got arrested and taken away. Over the course of summer, his family did not hear anything from him. Persecutions against Jews were part of daily life then in Romania and the Spoerri children had to wear the yellow star on their clothing. The terrible news of Isaac's death arrived at the end of 1941 when Daniel was just 11. His mother struggled to obtain a death certificate, and as a foreigner, she needed to prove her widowhood to be able to apply for passports for herself and her children. In 1942, she finally managed to get her six kids out of Romania. She declared to them years later: "the death of your beloved father made possible your salvation, my dear children." The family travelled to Lydia's home country of Switzerland where her brother Theophile Spoerri welcomed them all in his house. Theophile adopted Daniel and his five siblings, and the Feinstein family decided to go by their mother's maiden name, Spoerri. This early episode shaped the artist's vision of life and death, and his sense of belonging and identity as well. He would later state, "Everyone has something that drives them through life. Being without a native land is the engine of my own."
Growing up in Zurich, Daniel found his way to art through dance and theater. His uncle was a Professor of Literature and Rector at the University of Zurich and had a strong influence on his early love of poetry and literature. Between 1943 and 1948, as the young boy studied at the School of Business in Basel, he met the Swiss avant-garde artist Eva Aeppli while working in a bookstore. In 1949, he decided to study classical dance, and went back to Zurich to attend the Zurich Theater Dance School. There, he began to socialize with the Swiss artistic circle, meeting sculptor Jean Tinguely, Meret Oppenheim, and Dieter Roth who would all remain long-time friends. In a café one day, he happened to meet Max Turpis, a top Swiss dancer and professor who recognized Spoerri's talent and encouraged him to pursue his career in the performing arts. With the recommendation of his friend, Spoerri went to Paris in 1952 to study classical dance.
Early Training and Work
In 1954, after two years in the Parisian art community, Spoerri came back to Switzerland. He worked as a professional dancer for the State Company of Opera in Bern through 1957. Again, he developed friendships with Swiss avant-garde artists such as Bernhard Luginbühl and André Thomkins. In 1955, as his interest in theater grew, he decided to produce and direct the first production in German of The Bald Soprano by Eugene Ionesco, in which Ionesco famously used recycled verbal elements to convey the emptiness of life. This idea of reusing existing materials would prove to be important in the Spoerri's own artistic practice. As Art Historian John G. Hatch writes, theater has always provided "meaningful parallels for understanding Spoerri's work, as well as supplying possible influences."
After The Bald Soprano, Spoerri worked on other plays, participating in productions of Pablo Picasso's farcical play Desire Caught by the Tail, Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, and Ionesco's The Lesson, all staged in Bern. In 1957, he obtained a two-year contract as assistant of the director of the Landestheater Theater in Darmstadt, Germany. After moving there, he met Vera Mertz, daughter of well-known theater set designer Franz Merz. The two fell in love and promptly married.
While in Germany, Spoerri discovered another interest: concrete poetry. The burgeoning movement, which had started simultaneously in Brazil and Europe, consisted of turning poems into visual and physical entities. Spoerri met writer and director Claus Bremer who was one of its German promoters, and American expatriate Emmett Williams; the three would collaborate under the name of the "Darmstadt Circle" to publish MATERIAL, a journal of concrete poetry and figurative art. The first issue was also the first international anthology of the form. Spoerri served as a leader in the publication and made contributions himself. They published a total of four issues between 1957 and 1959. In the context of the magazine, Spoerri gave space to many important artists and writers of the time. With Bremer, he also created a form of experimental theater, sometimes described as "dynamic theater" or "autotheater," which aimed to turn spectators into active participants, an idea he would link later to visual art. During these active years, Spoerri turned gradually away from dance.
At the end of 1959, Spoerri and Vera moved to Paris where the artist reconnected with the city he had loved while studying dance. The couple lived in a tiny room at the hotel Carcassonne, the famous room 13 that the artist, years later, would recreate in a life-size bronze sculpture. Paris was (re-)becoming an important international artistic center at the time, its population eager to move forward from the post war years. The ideas of evolution and progress were very much in the air and in fact, earlier in 1955, an important exhibition at the Galerie Denise Rene had introduced Kinetic Art to the city hungry for fresh movement.
For Spoerri, this signified being in the right place at the perfect moment. He had been inspired by his earlier work for MATERIAL to create his first art project, the MAT Editions, "Multiplication d'Art Transformable" (Multiplication of Transformable Art). He had exposed this idea to Marcel Duchamp whom he met during a visit to Max Ernst's studio. Duchamp immediately supported Spoerri's concepts, which were to extend the reproducibility of sculptural objects and to place movement and changeability at the heart of an artwork. The results would be the production of objects, made inexpensively in a series that would change "optically, electrically, or through the physical intervention of the spectator, and presenting an infinite number of variations or aspects." Many significant artists agreed to participate in the project including Duchamp, Yaacov Agam, Josef Albers, Pol Bury, Heinz Mack, Roth, J.R. Soto, Tinguely, and Victor Vasarely. Spoerri's role was primary; he supervised all the operations from start to finish.
The first exhibition of the MAT Editions was held at the Galerie Edouard Loeb from November 1959 to January 1960 where Op and Kinetic artists prevailed. Spoerri explained his idea in the catalogue: "The static objective work permits only quantitative multiplication of the fixed idea present within the model [...] For the animated work, either by itself or through the intervention of the viewer-collaborator, multiplication renders justice to the infinite possibilities of transformation."
1960 would become a pivotal year for Spoerri's career. During it, he created his first tableau-piege or "snare picture," for which he would glue the remnants of an actual meal to a board to hang upon a wall. Among the earliest pieces is Kichka's breakfast (now at MoMA in New York). Although he was still married to Vera, she traveled often for work as a photographer and the couple lived a bohemian and open life. Kichka was the artist's girlfriend for a number of years and one day while waiting for visitors in his room of the Hotel Carcassonne, Spoerri became inspired by the lingering remains of a meal she had enjoyed earlier. "I pasted together the morning's breakfast, which was still there by chance," Spoerri explained. He included dishes, utensils, food, and cigarettes, mounted everything on a wood panel and affixed it to a small chair. The chair was affixed to the wall by its feet, seemingly defying gravity, along with all its contents. The snare pictures, also described as assemblage, were revolutionary in that they depicted literal fragments of reality trapped in space and time. They quickly encountered worldwide success and are considered Spoerri's trademark today.
The work also gained Spoerri inclusion into a bustling new group that had formed as an alternative to the Abstract wave that was quickly becoming a major Avant- Grade trend throughout Europe. In October 1960, in the studio of Yves Klein, he was among the first signatories of the Manifesto of the Nouveau Réalisme, coined and authored by art critic Pierre Restany. Restany stated that Nouveau Réalisme was based on a fresh perceptual approach to reality and a form of its "appropriation." Restany also declared, "The New Realists recognize their collective singularity. Nouveau Réalisme = new perceptual approaches of the real." Spoerri signed the Manifesto with his two names, "Daniel Spoerri-Feinstein." Other close friends of his were involved such as Arman, François Dufrêne, Raymond Hains, Yves Klein, Martial Raysse, Jean Tinguely, and Jacques Villeglé, all close friends. The first exhibition as a collective group was the Festival d'art d'avant-garde where Spoerri exhibited his snare-pictures. He would go on to show with this group for several years as a very active member.
During these years, Spoerri began to use performance and audience participation in his practice of making snare-pictures. As John G. Hatch explained, "the selection of the moment of when to adhere the objects tends to be arbitrary, where Spoerri will, over the course of a meal with friends, for example, "simply decide to stop and take the table away."
In 1962, he participated with Tinguely, Rauschenberg, Niki de Saint Phalle, Per Olof Ultvedt, and Martial Raysse, in Dylaby, a special exhibition organized at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. The Museum was transformed into an immersive labyrinth that spanned seven rooms. The artists filled the galleries with physical obstacles, and visitors had to move over raised platforms, climb structures, and false stairways. Visitors were also provided with BB guns that they could fire anytime. In one of the rooms, Spoerri contributed, chairs, mannequins, and pedestals that were affixed to the wall to create an illusion that the gallery was flipped ninety degrees. In another room that was totally dark, he scattered objects that coated in different materials to create different textures for the visitors.
In 1962, he published the famous book Topographie Anecdotée du Hasard (Anecdoted Topography of Chance). Extending his snare-picture practice, the book contained detailed descriptions of 80 objects, which were lying on a table in Hotel Carcassone room on October 17, 1961 at 3:47PM. The artist carefully inventoried each object and recorded the memories and associations related to each. Spoerri wanted to make fun of the art market fluctuations with the book but the publication aroused interest in his friends who wanted to contribute too. Hence, Robert Filliou, Emmett Williams, and Dieter Roth's associations, memories, and anecdotes were added alongside Roland Topor's sketches of each object. It became a documentation of an intellectual generation, sprinkled with their personal anecdotes. Art critic Peter Frank has called the book, a "quasi-autobiographical tour de force".
Food became increasingly important to Spoerri. As early as 1961, he declared items of food to be works of art with the rubber stamp "Attention. Oeuvre d'art" at the Galerie Koepcke in Copenhagen. In 1963, he organized the famous Repas Hongrois during an exhibition at the gallery J in Paris. He cooked and served meals to critics each night of the show and they were invited to glue their own table assemblages and put them on the walls. He held joyful banquets for friends, asking them to cook or cooking himself, requesting they bring their own utensils, boards, or dishes to the table. During this time, Spoerri was ambitiously productive, participating in many shows, projects, installations, and performances. He travelled all over Europe and the US. In 1964, he lived in the Chelsea Hotel in New York for several weeks and held exhibitions at the Allan Stone gallery.
However, Spoerri's frustration with the art market and institutions in general would continue to grow beyond his art works' tongue in cheek snub toward their traditions. He also feared that he was becoming trapped in his own paintings, which were falling into a consistently expected formula.
In 1967, he left Paris with Kischka for the remote Greek island of Symi where he remained 13 months. During their time there, the couple worked on several publications and Spoerri narrowed his interests more and more toward food.
After his retreat, Spoerri settled in Düsseldorf in 1967 where his friends Dieter Roth and Joseph Beuys among others encouraged him to stay. He decided to open a restaurant and introduced the term Eat Art, a new movement focused around food. The artist believed that the act of eating and drinking were not only integral to the cycles of life, but also worthy of celebration and elevation. Restaurant Spoerri opened in January 1968 and became an immediate success due to its surprising and eclectic range of dishes such as grilled ant omelets or python cutlets. But creativity extended beyond the fare; the menu also featured performances and even activities for kids. In September 1970, he opened the Eat Art gallery above the restaurant featuring exhibits made out of food and oftentimes, entirely edible. Many of the artist's friends were invited to contribute artworks. At the opening of the gallery, Spoerri declared, "The theme that we somewhat tackily call Eat Art is broad enough to encompass both decadence and also the creative act of rebirth. And making an artwork out of life itself appears to me to be the most delicious way to employ one's time." By turning culinary considerations into art, he also presented interesting ways for people to consider their own eating habits and consistently challenged and disorganizes long standing sensory perceptions and traditions surrounding food and its consumption. The gallery was a success but only lasted four years, closing for good in 1971.
In 1978, he started a new project: a sculpture garden in Tuscany called simply "Il Giardino di Daniel Spoerri." He filled the 35-acre space with re-creations of his snare-pictures and assemblages as life-size bronze sculptures, including his room 13 of the Hotel Carcassone. Longtime friends like Arman, Tinguely, and Roland Topor contributed as well as contemporary artists like Nam June Paik and Erwin Wurm.
One of Spoerri's last major happenings was the Dejeuner sous l'Herbe (or, Lunch Under the Grass) in 1983. The artist organized a banquet for 120 contemporary art world personalities at the Jouy-en-Josas where a year later the Cartier Foundation would be installed. In the middle of the meal, he invited guests to bury their tables, still covered with the remnants of the dishes. In 2010 and then again in 2016, Spoerri revisited the site to orchestrate the "first excavations of Modern art," in true archeological fashion, digging up and analyzing the remains of his banquet.
Throughout his career, Spoerri also took on teaching positions. Between 1977 and 1982, he taught at the Art and Design School in Cologne where he organized exhibition projects and banquets with students. From 1983 to 1989 he was professor at The Academy of Fine Arts, Munich. He also lectured all over Europe.
In 2008, Spoerri formed a non-profit foundation in Vienna, Austria where he continues to live and work today. Through the organization, he donated two spaces to the city to be used as exhibition venues and eateries. In 2015, he participated in a film by Olga Stefan where he discussed his 2010 trip to Romania searching for traces of his father. Olga Stefan stated: "This was the first recording of the artist speaking of his years in Romania and the impact of the pogrom on his biography."
Spoerri continues to exhibit all throughout Europe.
The Legacy of Daniel Spoerri
Spoerri is mostly known today for his snare-pictures and the idea that art can truly capture a literal moment of life. He's created a perpetual time stamp of his own existence, his travels, and his lust for food and companionship through objects affixed to a wall. He has elevated simple items of everyday consumption and one's immediate environment, and minutes of existence, into forever memories. This contribution to Nouveau Réalisme has reverberated throughout the years, inspiring many other artists such as Tracey Emin who famously made an artwork out of the contents of her bedroom consisting of her actual bed surrounded by the trash and clutter of her personal life.
But aside from the snare work, Spoerri's theatrical flair for the dramatic and his love of social engagement led him to also actively involve audiences in his artwork. Spurring an intimate connection between artwork and viewer through hosted happenings, he asks us to conscientiously consider, revel in, and respect the activities of our lives, imparting a message that life is the greatest form of art.
Finally, as instigator of the Eat Art movement, he created a unique perspective between food and art decades ahead of our contemporary obsession with food culture, famous chefs, and our universal consumption considerations and relationships to food. Today, what and how we eat is as trendy a subject as the figurative nude or the eternal abstract painting. This has paved the way for many contemporary artists to add to the dialogue, extending from the personal to political realms. For example, the film Resurrection by Tony Morgan traces graphically a pile of human excrement back through the intestines, to the eating of a steak, and back to its source, a cow.
Spoerri has never stopped working and renewing himself. Through his practice, he questions, humorously, all forms of conformism and invites his viewers to rethink the meaning of objects and moments, especially those that have become so ordinary as to develop an aura of complacency. In spite of his many collaborations with American artists, as notably with the Fluxus group, he is much better known in Europe than in the US. His first retrospective was held at the Centre Pompidou in Paris in 1990, and the Bank Austria Kunstforum Wien in Vienna is now preparing another large retrospective to open in Spring 2021.