August 26, 2017

Ben Vautier, Façade décorée/Decorated facade

picture (2012) from the website
La Lézardière (rentals of holiday locations)

On August 25, 2017, the French visual artist generally known as "Ben" published the following message on his newsletter
In english: I wouldn't say NO if my house tomorrow was put on the route list of singular art houses in France for a group interested in singularity.

A nice challenge indeed for this blog to realize this listing on August 26, 2017.

Although the decorated facade undoubtedly fits in this blog and Ben from origin is an autodidact artist, he does not belong to the category of non-mainstream artists on which this blog mainly focuses.  But sometimes it's a matter of making an exception, also because there is some relationship indeed between Ben and those artists who as "outsiders" created artworks which remain predominantly unnoticed by the art world.

Life and works

Born in 1935 in Naples, his parents divorced in 1939, during and after World War II young Benjamin Vautier stayed with his mother in various countries, such as Turkey and Egypt, to settle in 1949 in Nice in the south of France. The young boy visited some schools, got a job at the bookshop Le Nain Bleu and then became the owner of a book and stationery shop his mother had bought him.

Already in the early 1950s the young man attempted to make his first artworks.

In the late 1950s Vautier sold this shop to buy another shop in Nice, where he sold used gramophone records. He managed this shop from 1958 until 1973.

Located at 2 rue Tonduti de l’Escarène, not far from the (former) Art Academy, the Dépôt would soon become a meeting place for students of the academy, Nice's avant garde and other people interested in visual arts. The artist in Vautier woke up, he made his first creations, had his first exhibition (Rien et tout, 1960) and drew the attention of the inhabitants of Nice by adorning the facade of the shop with decorations.

life-size replica of "le Dépôt", constructed by Ben,
currently in the collection of the Centre Pompidou, Paris

From 1962 to 1979 Ben was active in the Fluxus movement, where art is not limited to what an artist does in a studio, but is associated with a much more diverse set of actions, such as, for example, Ben's marriage in 1964 could become an artistic gesture.

Related to this approach is the idea to appropriate all kind of items in the world as art by signing these if this comes to mind as an artistic act. So in 1965, he signed his own daughter Eva, three months old at that time.

Another aspect of Ben's oeuvre concerns what in French is named écritures (in English scriptures), paintings consisting of (short) texts, mainly in white characters on a black surface.

 screenprint of a page in Google search,
with links to a variety of  "écritures"

Through these écritures, which cover a variety of themes in postmodern art, philosophy and everyday life, Ben has become known to the French general public.

Decorating the facade of the house in Saint Pancrace

In 1975 Ben and his wife moved to Saint Pancrace. one of the 41 quartiers of Nice, where they obtained a dispatched house.

At some moment, undocumented on the internet, Ben began decorating the facade of the house using a variety of items, as is usual in the field of art environments.

picture (2009) from the geocaching website

Comparing above picture of the facade made in 2009, with the first picture made in 2012, it can be observed that decorating the house was an ongoing process, the later decorations being more varied and merged than the earlier ones.

Other than with respect to Ben's other artwork, the internet has little or no information about the manner in which this art environment came into being,

To my knowledge the usual French sources in the field of art environments do not mention it.

Ben and the Palais Idéal

In 2016, from May until August, Ben arranged an exposition on behalf of Le Palais Idéal, the famous French art environment created by Joseph Ferdinand Cheval (1836-1924). Located in the Hauterives Castle near the Palais and entitled Le Palais idéal des ego étranges (The ideal palace of strange ego), the exposition presented Ben’s artwork and works by forty other invited artists.

artwork by Ben
J’ai un Palais Idéal dans mon cerveau
(I have an Ideal Palace in my brain)

Marie-José Georges, the director of the Palais Idéal, thinks that Ben in fact has plenty of ties with Facteur Cheval, such as the notion of embezzlement and the relationship to scriptures.

A retrospective exposition at the Musée Maillol

From September 14, 2016 until January 15, 2017 the Musée Maillol in Paris had an exposition of Ben's artwork. Entitled Tout est art? (All is art?) the exposition both was a retrospective of Ben's artwork made between 1958 and 1978 and a presentation of new artwork added by Ben on the spot.

The trailer of the exposition has actual pictures of the decorated facade.

In an article in Hyperallergic (November 4, 2016, in English) Joseph Nechvatel discusses the implications of the concept Tout est art (All is art)

* Ben's personal website
* Website of Ben's daughter Eva Vautier, who runs an art gallery
* Article about Ben on website ArtsHebdo/Médias

* Video by Andrea Contin (July 2010, YouTube, 13'43")

Ben Vautier
Façade décorée
103, route de Saint-Pancrace
06000 Saint-Pancrace (Nice), dept Alpes-Maritimes, region Provence-Alpes-Côte d Azur, France
no visits, decorations can be seen from the road

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