Swiss sculptor, performance artist and writer of Romanian birth. On the death of his father in 1942 he fled with his family to Switzerland, where he was adopted by his uncle Théophile Spoerri in Zurich. In 1950 he began studying classical ballet in Zurich. From 1952 he studied dance and mime in Paris, becoming principal dancer for the Berne Opera in 1954 while also working as stage designer, composer and choreographer for the Kellertheater. From 1957 to 1959 he was assistant director at the Landestheater in Darmstadt. These experiences in the theatre provided the background to the art that he began to produce after settling in Paris in 1959. In addition to organizing banquets, festivals and exhibitions, he established a publishing house, MAT (Multiplication d’Art Transformable), specializing in concrete poetry. In 1960 Spoerri met Yves Klein through Jean Tinguely (whom he had met in Basle in 1949) and became a founder-member of Nouveau réalisme. In the same year he produced the first of his tableaux pièges (trap pictures), such as Kichka’s Breakfast I (objects fixed to a wooden plank and chair, 1960), in which randomly ordered objects were glued on to the furniture and other supports on which they rested exactly as they were found. Displaying the resulting sculpture not on the floor but on the wall, so that the objects appeared to defy gravity, Spoerri turned his realist still-lifes into pictures. His use of objets trouvés as fragments of everyday life, together with his reliance on chance in determining the arrangements, confirmed the conscious debts of the Nouveaux Réalistes to the earlier Dada movement.
Although Spoerri continued to elaborate his methods of assemblage, for example in Collection of Spices (1963; Stockholm, Mod. Mus.), in which an assortment of bottled products is simply arranged as if on kitchen shelves, he also remained committed to live events such as the Autothéâtre on which he collaborated with Tinguely from 1953. By 1963 he was involved with the Fluxus movement. After living on the island of Simi, near Rhodes, in 1966–7, during which time he published four issues of a journal, Petit colosse de Simi, he moved to Düsseldorf. There in 1968 he opened a restaurant, bearing his name, which he decorated with his correspondence of the previous 15 years. Two years later, immediately above the restaurant, he founded the Eat Art Gallery, where for two years he held solo shows of temporary works made from food by such artists as Joseph Beuys, Richard Lindner, Ben, and the Nouveaux Réalistes Arman, César and Niki de Saint Phalle.
Spoerri’s Musée sentimental (Paris, Pompidou, 1979), followed by similar displays in Germany (Cologne, Kstver., 1979) and Switzerland (Basle, Gewmus., 1989), enabled him to create an approximation to a museum of culture. In each case he used historical documents as a way of concentrating attention on various questions. Of what does the culture of a city consist? How can its breadth of reference—to art, religion, science, economics, legal institutions and sport—be represented? The cultural museum is interpreted as a living museum in which objects tell stories. Spoerri himself continued to be involved in numerous activities. From 1977 to 1982 he taught a course in multi-media at the Fachhochschule für Kunst und Design in Cologne; and in 1978 he organized a festival banquet on the theme Hommage à Karl Marx and also designed the stage set and costumes for Peter Zadek’s production of Wintermärchen.
From Grove Art Online
© 2009 Oxford University Press