Pulled from Dieter Roth’s masterpiece, Snow (1964/69), the title of MoMA’s latest book initially reads as something of a dare to stick around: Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth. Whether from the curiosity to see how it ends or the desire to possess something fleeting, this call to action sparked our appetite to consume Roth’s editions slowly in order to savor what might not last.
Dieter Roth, also known as Dieter Rot, DITERROT, and Karl-Dietrich Roth, thrived in states of transience. His life and work suggest that he was unwilling to stay in one place, stylistically and physically.
In her overview essay of the books, prints, and multiples of Roth’s formative years, Sarah Suzuki, Associate Curator, Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, traces the prolific first half of the artist’s career—from 1960 to 1975—in a way that makes sense of the furious energy behind Roth’s fast-evolving work and lifestyle.
These editions were the singular constant in Roth’s work as he bounced from one country to another, corresponding with exquisite painted-over postcards indicative of his wanderlust. As his artistic vision progressed, his work decomposed from technically skilled Concrete design exercises to eventually become a meditation on decay. Ironically enough, it was through this exploration of entropy that Roth made his most substantial contributions to contemporary art.
Around 1961, he began experimenting with organic materials in his works, producing literature-sausages by substituting shredded books and magazine for meat, and created “printings” and “squashings” using foods like bananas, sausages, and juice. Believing that both art and man should grow old and die, Roth made chocolate and birdseed busts of himself, leaving them to decompose in a garden to the delight of hungry birds. And as they decayed, his work began to grow in ways beyond his control, welcoming an element of nature’s unique brand of chance. In his desire to rot, Dieter Roth created a legacy that continues to inspire and engage younger generations of artists and audiences. Perhaps despite himself, his work lives on.
The book concludes with fascinating contributions by conservators Brenna Campbell, Scott Gerson, and Lynda Zycherman, discussing how they handle the complicated balance of preserving both the artwork and the artist’s intention.
For more of Roth’s editions, download a free sample of Wait, Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth.