Travel and adventure played an important role in the life and work of Bas Jan Ader, whether he was wandering the streets at night or sailing around the world. Ader was born in the small Dutch city of Winschoten and moved to Amsterdam in 1959, where he befriended artist Ger van Elk. Following an eleven-month yacht journey to California, in 1962 he settled in Los Angeles, where he was reacquainted with Van Elk. Both attended Immaculate Heart College, and Ader later went on to study philosophy at Claremont Graduate School. At that time he met and exhibited alongside Los Angeles–based artists Allen Ruppersberg and William Leavitt, with whom he published the satirical art magazine Landslide. Much of Ader's work employs deadpan humor and an underlying travel narrative, often drawing comparisons between "home" and "abroad." During one project—a voyage initiated in 1975 in Los Angeles and followed by a solo Atlantic crossing—Ader was lost at sea and met an untimely death.
In 1960 Stanley Brouwn began collecting footprints by placing small blank sheets of paper on the streets of Amsterdam to be inadvertently stepped on by passersby. At the same time he started another project (also on display here), in which he handed pedestrians paper and asked them to draw him a map to a specific destination. The artist stamped the resulting drawings "This Way Brouwn" and exhibited them as his work. Many of his pieces made during the late 1960s and early 1970s consist of transcriptions of measurements, often based on specific walks, in which the artist's stride stands as the unit of measure. Since that period Brouwn—who considers himself a citizen of the world—has requested that his biography not be revealed and his work not be reproduced, preferring that it be experienced in person without further interference.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s Hanne Darboven traveled frequently between Europe and the United States. After early training as a pianist, Darboven studied painting in Hamburg from 1963 to 1965. The following year she moved to New York, where she developed her distinctive graphic signature—a system of marking time through a hybrid of writing and drawing often based on the organization of the calendar. There she befriended many Minimal and Conceptual artists, including Sol LeWitt, with whom she shared an interest in mathematics and geometry. Darboven visited Amsterdam for the first time in 1967, one year before settling permanently in Hamburg. Her first solo exhibition outside Germany took place at Art & Project in 1970. For that occasion she created 100 Books 00–99, an installation consisting of one hundred mechanically printed books whose page numbers vary according to the number of days—365 or 366—in each year of the twentieth century.
Jan Dibbets grew up in the Dutch provinces, where he began his career as a painter, first exhibiting monochromatic multipanel paintings in Amsterdam in the mid-1960s. In 1967 Dibbets studied at the St. Martin's School of Art in London, where the young British artists he met included Gilbert & George, who were working independently from one another at the time. That same year he made a definitive shift away from painting, extending the medium's formal concerns with composition and perspective into the realms of photography, film, and Land art. Shortly after his return to the Netherlands he established himself in Amsterdam and became a central figure there, forging connections with American artists Sol LeWitt and Lawrence Weiner. Together with fellow Dutch artist Ger van Elk, Dibbets played an instrumental role in the organization of two groundbreaking international exhibitions of 1969, Op Losse Schroeven (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam) and When Attitudes Become Form (Kunsthalle, Bern, Switzerland).
After studying art in his birth city of Amsterdam, in 1961 Ger van Elk moved to Los Angeles, where his father was working as an animator for the television show The Flintsones. He attended Immaculate Heart College, where he was joined the following year by his friend and fellow Dutch émigré Bas Jan Ader. Van Elk quickly integrated into the city's art scene, befriending a group of young American Conceptual artists, including Allen Ruppersberg, who shared his witty, self-parodying approach to artmaking. In 1963 van Elk returned to Amsterdam to study art history, a field he often quoted in his practice. His work of the period, across a wide range of mediums, often draws humorous parallels between Amsterdam and Los Angeles, and throughout the 1970s he continued to travel frequently between the two cities, exhibiting his work at Art & Project in Amsterdam and in Los Angeles at the Claire Copley Gallery.
With their hands and faces covered in metallic paint, Gilbert & George gave their first presentation as "living sculptures" outside England in 1969, on the interior stairs of the Stedelijk Museum. The two had met two years before in London at St. Martin's School of Art, a breeding ground for a new generation of artists whose works challenged traditional notions of sculpture. During that time they befriended Jan Dibbets, who was attending the same school, and Ger van Elk. Starting in 1970 Gilbert & George made groups of monumental works they call "charcoal on paper sculptures," and concurrently they designed "postal sculptures" in the form of cards and pamphlets sent through the mail to a small number of acquaintances. In 1971 the Stedelijk Museum organized the artists' first museum exhibition and in 1977 hosted their last "living sculpture" presentation.
Sol LeWitt—a defining figure in the establishment of Minimal and Conceptual art in New York—played a key role in international group exhibitions in the Netherlands in the late 1960s. He was among the first artists of his generation to delegate the fabrication of his sculptures, through written instructions, and starting in 1968 he applied a similar working method to his Wall Drawings, which were designed to be executed on existing walls. LeWitt shared with Lawrence Weiner the belief that art can be communicated by language and realized by others and with Hanne Darboven, whom he met in 1967, the desire to free art from representation and emotion through the use of mathematical and geometric systems. During the 1960s and 1970s LeWitt traveled extensively in Europe, where, due to the conceptual nature of his work, he was able to coordinate many exhibitions over short periods of time. He befriended Jan Dibbets in Amsterdam, and he had his first exhibition at Art & Project in 1970.
Charlotte Posenenske first traveled outside Germany in 1951, on a bicycle trip through the Netherlands. That same year she began formal studies in painting, and a decade later she exhibited her abstract work in Frankfurt. In the mid-1960s Posenenske began investigating three-dimensional forms using metal reliefs and modular sculptures, possibly inspired by her encounter with Minimal art during a 1965 trip to New York. In 1967 the German dealer Konrad Fischer included her work in an exhibition with Hanne Darboven and introduced her to Sol LeWitt and Jan Dibbets. In Posenenske's first exhibition outside Germany—in Amsterdam in 1968—she displayed prefabricated, galvanized steel elements that could be freely assembled according to the wishes of the collector or curator. They are installed here in the same combination in which they were presented at the time, in Art & Project's inaugural exhibition. The show was also Posenenske's last; later that year she left the art world to pursue a career in sociology.
In the early 1960s Allen Ruppersberg moved from his hometown of Cleveland, Ohio, to Los Angeles to study commercial art at Chouinard Art Institute. While there, he met a generation of emerging American artists as well as Dutch artists Bas Jan Ader and Ger van Elk, who had recently emigrated from the Netherlands. He shared their affinity for a concept-based art practice involving language and humor, as well as their fascination for Los Angeles—a city of film studios, beaches, and strip malls. Combining texts and photographs, much of Ruppersberg's work deals with a sense of place and with the city as a subject. Ruppersberg had his first exhibitions in Los Angeles, then was connected by Ader and Van Elk to Art & Project in Amsterdam, which mounted his first solo show outside the United States in 1971. Two years later he exhibited at the Stedelijk Museum, where he showed Where's Al? and Between the Scenes.
Lawrence Weiner spent many of his early years on the road, and travel is a significant part of his life and work. Best known for using language as a primary material for his art, Weiner played a critical role in New York's Conceptual art scene of the late 1960s and later became an important link between American and European art circles. He visited Amsterdam in 1963, during his first European trip, and seven years later established a studio and residence there on a houseboat that he maintains today along with a home in New York. Since 1968 his practice has been based on "propositions"—A WALL CRATERED BY A SINGLE SHOTGUN BLAST, for example—which need not be realized but can be communicated through language alone. Through his participation in Op Losse Schroeven, an important 1969 exhibition of Post-minimal and Conceptual art at the Stedelijk Museum, he met many Dutch artists, including Jan Dibbets and Ger van Elk, and began his long-standing relationship with Art & Project gallery.