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Biographical Note

Boris Lurie on Wolf Vostell (2001): Napoleon is supposed to have said wisely, and he had the experience: “There are those, who make revolutions—and there are those who profit from revolutions.” Dear Wolf, I think you will agree with me, that it is better to have been one of those who made them, instead of merely someone who profited from them! But I am sure that you are already working on the next uprising, even if the previous-one for the time being turned out has dribbled out, sunk in the sand of reaction, leaving though a little of the red stuff stained on the surface. From “the other side” you must be seeing now clearly, that flirtations with unhappy kids' late-Dada, as well as dry-bone cerebral mind-set games, mass-grown out of the ruminations of a Marcel Duchamp, or Beatles-like good-boy niceties, fail—for the ingredient of religion remains missing, and “art” without religion ain't art but athletic exercises. I understand that where you are, there are no galleries, nor collectors nor investors, so then eternity doesn't have to be wasted in trying to deal with them, nor freedom's trading gentlemen; one may, what the art-mavens call, be constantly “creative,” and no one yells disparagingly at you “too much blood” for all the blood is being traded profitably on this side of the waters, sponsored by the best of royal and un-royal institutions, and mixed with revolutionary mile-high blooming lap-dogs, Armani-masterworks and conc-camp installations. And therefore, Wolf, you must take back your accusations and try to be a team-player from now on. Blood, dried and liquid and manufactured is being broadcast like the Mayas broadcasted the blood of sacrificial prisoners from the highest step of the pyramid of Chichen-Itza up to heaven.

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Born in 1932, in Leverkusen, Germany. Refugee from bombing raids - to occupied Czechoslovakia; painful refugee-trek in 1944-45 back to Germany. Sojourn in Soviet occupation zone; family helped by Soviet officers. Move to Leverkusen, British zone. Begins his art studies in Cologne in 1950. Later studies with the French poster artist A. M. Cassendre in Paris. Develops de-coll/age (1). With monetary help from his friend Dick Higgins, an organizer of Fluxus, Vostell publishes his magazines/books under the title De-coll/age.

In 1958 he creates the first street happening/event, closing up a small street in Paris (2). In 1959 Vostell was the first one to use actual television sets incorporated in his work (3). Vostell, in major Happenings, used rail-road cars and locomotives, a reminder of what the German Railroads did in World War II. (And also perhaps, because his father was a railroad employee.) (4) Another major theme of his work was casting huge objects (such as cars) in concrete, and using concrete in conjunction with live figures. Vostell participated in a number of Fluxus activities in Germany (5), but his attitude was never the playful re-conditioned old Dada. Rather, it was unfashionable, ethical, confrontational, and political, calling forth to all the recent German past (this in contrast to Prof. Joseph Beuys, a former Luftwaffe volunteer, who preached an anarchistic-seeming mixture of phantasy-inspired idealism, in conjunction with the German Drive Eastward) Vostell visited New York often, and was in close contact with the NO!artists almost from the Start through artist/writer Lil Picard - who was reporting on New York art in the German press- and he (very stub-bornly) attempted to produce NO!art exhibitions in West German museums (such as Duisburg, Berlin and Karlsruhe) which were not accepted, through he did succeed in private galleries in Bochum and Berlin (Inge Baecker and Rene Block.) He exhibited with NO!art at the Karlsruhe Museum exhibition Kunst und Politik and later participated in the NO!art multiple edition (Galerie Armin Hundertmark, Cologne.) He also attempted to publish NO!art: Pinups/ Excrement/ Protest/ Jew-art already when it was compiled by Seymour Krim and Boris Lurie in the late 1960s at the Dick Higgins' Fluxus/Something Else Press, who, despite his editor's approval, rejected it (It was published many years later by Edition Hundertmark, Cologne.)

Wolf Vostell, a full blood German, conveyed his attitude with his own body, by being dressed in the garb of a Jewish Hasid which brought upon him at least once a bodily attack by post-unification neo-Nazi thugs.

In 1992 Wolf Vostell was honored with simultaneous exhibitions in five museums in Germany, in spite of the fact that he did not have a gallery representing him in New York.

Shortly before his untimely death, he started illustrating with etchings (together with Dietmar Kirves) Boris Lurie's book of German poetry Gedichtigtes/Geschriebigtes / NO!art in BUCHENWALD

(1) Vostell arrived at his concept of de-coll/age in Paris in 1954, when he noticed the term used in the newspaper Le Figaro to describe the simultaneous take off and crash of an airliner. Dividing the word into syllables to emphasize both the difference and continuity of creative and destructive processes ("coll" for collage, or construction, and "de" for disassembly, or deconstruction.) Vostell employed the term as a synthesizing principle for the destructive/creative dialectic of Western epistemology, and as the defining theoretical principle of his art.
(2) Subsequently documented by Galleria Arturo Schwarz, Milan.
(3) TV de-coll/age for Millions ( He acknowledged television as the disseminator of the "two great twentieth-century themes: destruction and sex.")
(4) Functioning in the social arena like weapons "to politicize art, "the happening Nein-9'Colllagen in Wuppertal received widespread media attention in 1963. In this work the artist hired a locomotive to run into and destroy a Mercedes Benz parked across the railroadtrucks. Both a dramatic spectacle and a critique of German commodity culture, Vostell's willful destruction of a prized object of German craftsmanship also summoned Infories of German trains that carried humans to destruction only eighteen years earlier.
(5) As much as he was central to the development of happenings, Vostell was also a founder of Fluxus in Europe, introducing artists such as Nam June Paik and Joseph Beuys to George Maciunas. Joseph Beuys has often been credited as the artist who made discussion of Word War II possible in Germany. But it was Vostell who first paved the way to the discussion and cultural confrontation with the Nazi era in his happenings and installations of the late 1950s and early 1960s. These were undeniably symbolic of war... and visually reminiscent of destructive processes of life.

(Notes 1,3,4,5 from a Kristine Stiles essay, exhibition catalog, OUT OF ACTIONS between PERFORMANCE and the object 1949-1979, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, Thames and Hudson, 1998, pp. 275-278.)

Published in: NO!art Show No 3, Kirves, Lurie, Patterson, Vostell, Catalog, New York, 1998.

related:Wolf Vostell (1932-98)