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Daniel Spoerri Photo

Daniel Spoerri

Swiss Artist, Writer and Sculptor

Born: March 27, 1930 - Galati, Romania
"I want to show reality as it is, dirty and banal and ordinary and so on."
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Daniel Spoerri
"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."
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Daniel Spoerri
"«Everyone has something that drives them through life. Being without a native land is the engine of my own»."
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Daniel Spoerri
"I decided to become an artist not because I had the gift of being good at drawing or sculpting, but because I could not do anything else. It was a matter of survival. I could either kill myself or live that way. "
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Daniel Spoerri
"«I had to wait decades before someone said "Oh, that's beautiful!". When I started, everyone said "Horrible! Who would put such a thing on the wall?"»."
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Daniel Spoerri
"«Do you see this scissors? Tinguely would have used a small engine to get them to work alone; Arman would have accumulated hundreds of them to demonstrate how the quantity becomes quality; César would have taken a thousand of them, compressing everything into a cube; Yves Klein would have painted them in blue; Christo would have packed them, and I would have created one square meter of land and showing them in their natural context. This was the Nouveau Réalisme»."
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Daniel Spoerri

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.

Accomplishments

  • 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.

Biography of Daniel Spoerri

Daniel Spoerri Life and Legacy

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.



Progression of Art

1959-1960

Prose Poems

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 - Tate, London

1963

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.

1961-1962

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

1964

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

1967

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

1983

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.

Performance


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Content compiled and written by Pich-Chenda Sar

Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Cooper

"Daniel Spoerri Artist Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Pich-Chenda Sar
Edited and revised, with Summary and Accomplishments added by Kimberly Cooper
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First published on 18 May 2021. Updated and modified regularly
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