Ben and Deconstruction – An Interview with Ben Vautier, by Daniela Palazzoli

Translated from a 1973 newspaper article in French. pp. 87 – 90, Ben Vautier. Is everything art?

©2015 Museum Tinguely, Basel, Kehrer Verlag Heidelberg Berlin, authors,  artists and photographers [and translator!]. ISBN 978-3-86828-649-6 

Ben and Deconstruction – An Interview with Ben Vautier (the first few paragraphs)

Ben Vautier has been called a pre-conceptual artist, a naïve artist, Fluxus man, a painter of the Nice school. In reality, the definition that suits him best and which he himself prefers is without doubt that of “extremist artist.” The landmarks of his ideas on art are Marcel Duchamp and John Cage, the musician of Silence. According to Ben, Duchamp and Cage are the artists who “opened the two most important windows onto contemporary art.” All those who saw Ben Vautier at Documenta (and if they visited that exhibition they could not have missed him: With his physical presence, his works, and his initiatives he was everywhere, in the hall, in the two “documenta” buildings, in the most obscure corners, even the toilets) can affirm without hesitating that he is, in a certain sense, all of these things at once. His strength consists precisely in the fact that he has never allowed himself to be conditioned by the market, and that he always puts himself on the line with his initiatives. He has always sought to elaborate anew, and in a personal way, prevailing artistic theories. He has declared himself ambitious, but he has refused to quit Nice (where he continues to run his incredible second-hand record store) for Paris. He has kept his gallery “La Fenêtre,” a center for young artists, documentation, debates and meetings, whose name is not so much linked to the “Window” of Duchamp but to the fact that there is no door, and the only ones who can get in are those who are willing to make the effort and leap through the entresol windows. In short, Ben Vautier has kept it real. Today, at the age of thirty-five, this Cartesian individualist who seeks at all costs to retain his independence, at either the practical or the theoretical level, declares that he is going through a crisis. According to him, this crisis corresponds to an objective situation in contemporary art. From this arises his demand for the “deconstruction” of the subjective and objective elements that come together in art.

D.P.: Ben, what is currently your attitude towards art? I know you to be polemic and combative and I don’t believe that it’s only the wind of revolt that’s coming from the “nouvelle peinture” front that’s urging you to revise your positions.

B.V.: My current position, now that Duchamp has declared that “everything is art”, is this: The locus of artistic searching is no longer art itself. I mean, we’re no longer looking for the aesthetic form of art but we’re questioning art. That’s why I’m interested in these attitudes that call themselves anti-art, non-art, life is art, anonymous art etc., even if I do believe that these are hypocritical and, on the whole, impossible attitudes. Indeed, if they really were successful, the effect would be the disappearance of art history or of artists considered to be individuals taking part in that history. However, all this is only “post-Duchamp” attitude. Even the currents that postulate a return to “great painting” are influenced by Duchamp. After Duchamp, whether we like it or not, it is impossible to return to the form. It is art itself that is presenting itself as a problem.

D.P.: So it’s the problem of attitude that is becoming the underlying problem. Not so much the problem of artistic attitude but rather that of the attitude to be taken towards art. What is yours?

B.V.: One of the fundamental concepts of art is that of the new. And if the rule of the game is to do new things it’s obvious that art’s constant aim is to change drawers. Once all the possible combinations of a drawer – labeled painting, sculpture, or something else – have been exhausted, it’s clear that it’s the drawer itself which is under debate, because debate is definitely the first rule of the game. And it’s not at all the rule of the game of the naïve, of madmen, or of children, but that of art history… And the common denominator of this rule of the game is the Ego, which is expressed in physical form in the signature and in the date. This signature and this date, which, today, are the true nature of art –  the task is to destroy them, to change them, since art carries its own self-destruction within itself. Well, I think that to change art we need to change man… And in order to be able to change art, we must first know what there is in art. Hence, there’s deconstruction. But not only an objective deconstruction, of artistic materials I mean, but deconstruction of the subjectivity of art. Take a horizontal line: at the end of this line there is a canvas that is called art… and there can be different colors there. OK. But in the artwork there is above all the artist, in the artist there is his Ego, in the artist there is his jealousy, there is the whole problem of his personality. And then in the artist there is the history of art, in the history of art there is the problem of ideology, in the history of ideology there is politics, in politics there is the class struggle. By means of deconstruction, we discover that the class struggle, too, enters into art. Indeed, thanks to this operation, I’m in the process of discovering a whole load of things that I never dreamed of before, which are components of art… In due course, I discovered this one, among others: Telling the truth is one way of changing art. Well, in order to change man we need to count the motivations that are found behind the work of art.