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Ben Vautier

Originating from the canton of Vaud but born in Naples in 1935, Ben (full name Benjamin Vautier) has been living and working in Nice since the age of fourteen.

In 1958, his mother bought him a bookshop that he turned into a used record store, famous for its façade sporting an exuberant accumulation of various objects covered with inscriptions. Named Galerie BDDT (for Ben doute de tout, or Ben doubts everything), it became an important meeting place for the artists who were to be the principal members of the School of Nice, such as César, Martial Raysse and Arman. In 1972, the store entered the Musée national d’art modern in Paris as a total work of art.

In a spirit similar to that of Yves Klein and the new realists, Ben developed the “everything is possible in art” theory, which became the main driving force behind his approach. Advocating an art of life-appropriation, in 1959 he started systematically signing everything that surrounded him – objects, people on the street, his friends, “…God, chickens…” – to show that the intention alone could define a work of art.

During a stay in London in 1962 with Daniel Spoerri, he discovered the performance art that was being promoted by George Maciunas and the Fluxus group, in which he was soon to become one of the most active members. In Nice he founded Théâtre Total and organized its first “happenings”, offering multiple “street actions” and “attitude gestures”.

In 1972, he took part in Documenta V and 72, douze ans d'art contemporain en France, a controversial exhibition presented at the Grand Palais where, as a disciple of Duchamp, he decided to present a simple flask of urine. He then curated the group exhibition À propos de Nice, which inaugurated the Centre Georges-Pompidou. Upon his return from a year in Berlin, Ben organized an exchange-exhibition between young German painters and what he called the Figuration libre française, a group formed around Robert Combas.

In order to have a presence on the art scene and get people talking about him, Ben has been noting his reflections, plans and activities on his website since 1996, and he regularly offers his point of view on current events in newsletters that are sometimes polemical.

His works can be found in some of the largest private and public collections, including those of MoMA in New York, the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Centre Georges-Pompidou in Paris and the Musée d’art contemporain in Lyon.