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Is everything art? Ben at the Musée Maillol
From 14 September to 15 January 2017

Ben takes possession of the newly reopened Musée Maillol for the first large-scale exhibition devoted to the artist in Paris. Bringing together over 200 artworks principally from the artist’s own personal collection, as well as private collections, this retrospective, which features several previously unseen installations, provides the public with an insight into the multiple and complex facets of this iconoclastic, provocative and prolific artist, an advocate of the non-conformist and the alternative for over 50 years.

Following on from the ambitious retrospective devoted to Ben at the Musée Tinguely in Basel in 2015, the curatorship of the historical part of the exhibition at the Musée Maillol was entrusted to Andres Pardey, vice-director of the Musée Tinguely. For the contemporary section, carte blanche was given to Ben, who was invited to display his most recent creations within the spaces of the museum, some of which can be seen by the public for the first time.

In the late 1950s, Benjamin Vautier (b. 1935) more widely known as Ben, declared: ‘I sign everything’. This statement, corroborated by his images and actions, illustrates his belief that the world and indeed art, is a whole, and that everything constitutes art. Each phrase, however brief, reveals a meditation on important issues such as truth in art, the role of the artist in society and the relationship between art and life itself. His ‘écritures’ or written texts reflect his own personal questions and bear testimony to a critical spirit that is quick to question everyone and everything, including himself. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp’s ready-mades, Ben has systematically perpetuated the notion that a work of art is recognizable not by its material content, but by its signature alone.

This exhibition is produced in collaboration with the Musée Tinguely of Basel.

With the support of  

The curatorial team

Ben is one of the major artists of the 20th century, known for his actions and paintings. His work can be seen as a reflection on art in its most essential or fundamental nature, and by focusing on the extraordinary aspects of the ordinary, he has succeeded in transforming life into a form of art. His work also embraces a wide variety of subjects including ethnicity, the ego and truth. Ben is incredibly popular thanks to his ‘écritures’ or written paintings, renowned for their impertinence and insight. Ben, born Benjamin Vautier, is a French artist with Swiss roots, born on 18 July 1935, in Naples (Italy) to a mother of mixed Irish and Occitan heritage and a French-speaking Swiss father. He is the great grandson of the 19th century Swiss painter, Marc Louis Benjamin Vautier. He spent the first five years of his life in Naples. Following the outbreak of war in 1939, Ben and his mother travelled frequently: to Switzerland, Turkey, Egypt, and Italy, before finally settling in Nice in 1949. He studied at the École du Parc-Impérial and was a boarder at the Collège Stanislas (junior high school). His mother found him a job as a delivery boy at Le Nain bleu bookstore before buying him his very own stationery-bookstore.

Ben sold the store at the end of the 1950s and opened up a small boutique where he sold second-hand records. He transformed the shop front with a rather unusual display of knick-knacks. Hosting regular exhibitions, his store quickly became an important meeting spot for artists, and attracted many of the key figures of what would later become known as the Nice School : César, Arman, Martial Raysse, etc. Close to Yves Klein and seduced by Nouveau Réalisme (New Realism), Ben was convinced that ‘art should be new and create an effect of surprise’. At the beginning of the 1960s, many artists attempted to appropriate the world as a work of art. Ben autographed everything available to him: ‘holes, mysterious boxes, kicks, God, hens, etc.’, connecting art and life, and explaining that everything was art and that in art, everything was possible. In 1965, he created an exhibition gallery of 3 m2 on the mezzanine level of his shop which he called: ‘Ben doubts everything’. Here he exhibited the work of Biga, Aloooo, Venet, Maccaferri, Serge III, Sarkis, Filliou, etc. At the start of the 1980s, following a year spent on a scholarship in Berlin, he made the acquaintance of a group of young artists that included Robert Combas, Hervé Di Rosa, François Boisrond, Rémi Blanchard, etc., a group he would christen Figuration Libre (Free Figuration).

An active figure in the contemporary art scene, Ben has always supported younger artists and expressed his views on current trends and movements, whether these are of a cultural, political, anthropological or artistic nature. These can be read in his regular and voluble newsletters.

Since 1975, he has lived and worked in the hills above Saint-Pancrace, near Nice. Ben’s work features in some of the world’s largest private and public art collections: notably MoMA New York, The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, The Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig in Vienna, the LUHKA in Antwerp, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Solothurn Museum, the Musée national d’Art moderne de Paris and the Musée d’Art moderne et d’Art contemporain de Nice.

Born in Basel in 1965, Andres Pardey studied art at the University of Basel. He obtained his degree in 1991 and his PhD in 1996 with a dissertation on pictorial narrative in the work of Hans Holbein the Younger. Since 1995, he has worked at the Musée Jean Tinguely, firstly as a university assistant; as curator since 2002, and finally as vice-director since 2007. He participated in the creation and opening of the museum (1 October 1996) and has been involved in the organization of numerous exhibitions, including: Panamarenko (2000), Daniel Spoerri (2001), Niki de Saint Phalle (2001), Marcel Duchamp (2002), Jean le Jeune (2002), Luginbühl (2003), Three Islands: Richard Stankiewicz, June Leaf, Robert Lax (2004), Eva Aeppli (2006), Niki & Jean, L’Art et L’Amour (2006), Hofkunst (2007), p.s. Pavel Schmidt (2008), Rüstung & Robe (2009), Robert Breer (2011), Krištof Kintera (2014), Ben Vautier (2015). He has also been involved in the organization of various Tinguely exhibitions in Rotterdam (Kunsthal), Valence (IVAM), Vienna (Kunsthaus) and elsewhere.

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