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We are deeply saddened by the passing of our friend Ben Patterson, American musician, artist, and founding member of the Fluxus international art movement. In 1960, Patterson moved to Cologne, Germany, where he became active in the radical contemporary music scene, performing in festivals in Cologne, Paris, Venice, and elsewhere. During this pre-Fluxus period Patterson created and performed some of his early seminal works: Paper Piece (1960), Lemons (1961), and Variations for Double Bass (1961). Late in 1961, Patterson moved to Paris, where he collaborated with Robert Filliou (Puzzle-Poems), and published his Method and Processes, an artist’s book comprising loose-leaf pages bound in a folder. Patterson joined George Maciunas in Wiesbaden to organize the historic 1962 Fluxus International Festival, and continued to be a major presence at Fluxus events until the early 1970s, when he retired to pursue ordinary life in New York City.
Although he remained outside the art world for more than 17 years, Patterson resurfaced for such events as the 20th Anniversary Fluxus Festival in Wiesbaden in 1982. In 1988, Patterson came out of retirement with his exhibition titled Ordinary Life, at the Emily Harvey Gallery, New York. In 1992, he returned to Germany to establish a headquarters for his work and travel. Patterson’s work has been featured in many recent Fluxus exhibitions and performances throughout Europe, Russia, Asia, and the Americas. In 1996, he inaugurated the Public Entrance to his Museum of the Subconscious at Mt. 13th Month in Namibia, Africa. The traveling retrospective exhibition Benjamin Patterson: Born in the State of FLUX/us was organized in 2012 by the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston. In the summer of 2015, Ben Patterson was included in the group exhibition
By this River, Weston Art Gallery, Cincinnati. The photos below are installation shots of Ben’s pieces from this show. Included is an image of Ben performing Pond with the Weston Art Gallery Docentitos.
"It is possible that my interest in rivers could be traced back to my birthplace—Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the ‘Three Rivers City,’ and that I have always lived near a major river: the Hudson in New York, the Seine in Paris, and the Rhine in Cologne, and now Wiesbaden.”
— Ben Patterson in Notes to the Los Angeles River Concrete Poems, exhibition at the Solway Jones Gallery, Los Angeles, California, 2006
Ben Patterson, performing Pond with the Weston Art Gallery Docentitos,
By this River, Weston Art Gallery, Cincinnati, summer 2015
Ben Patterson handing out wind-up frogs to Weston Art Gallery Docentitos for performance, summer, 2015
Ben Patterson, Flying Bass, 2015 and Los Angeles River Concrete Poems, 2006/2015, installation shot, By this River, Weston Art Gallery, Cincinnati, summer 2015
Ben Patterson, Flying Bass, 2015, vintage double bass, LEDs, wood, oil paint, inkjet print on vinyl and nylon, an aluminum, 36 x 134 x 88 inches, By this River, Weston Art Gallery, Cincinnati, summer 2015
Ben Patterson, Los Angeles River Concrete Poem, 2006/2015, laminated digital photographs, text, cast concrete, wooden support, pump, reservoir, water, amplifier, 2 microphones, 3 plastic palm trees, overall dimensions variable, By this River, Weston Art Gallery, summer 2015
Carl Solway Gallery mourns the loss of Ben Patterson. The gallery published two editions with the artist and included him in numerous exhibitions over the years. In 2015, Michael Solway included Patterson in By This River, an exhibition he curated for the Weston Art Gallery in Cincinnati. Below is an obituary from ARTnews.
The leading source of art coverage since 1902.
BEN PATTERSON, CORNERSTONE OF FLUXUS AND EXPERIMENTAL ART, DIES AT 82
Ben Patterson, the artist, composer, and double bassist who played with classical orchestras, helped found the Fluxus movement, took a nearly 20-year break from performance to live what he termed “ordinary life,” and returned to art-making as an assemblage artist, died on Saturday at his home in Wiesbaden, Germany, according to friends and collaborators. He was 82.
In the early 1960s, Patterson was among a small group of outré artists, including La Monte Young, John Cage, and Yoko Ono, who pushed music and performance to profound, radical extremes. His 1960 Paper Piece called for audience members to fold, rip, and wave paper through the air. The score for his Lick Piece (1964) read simply, “Cover shapely female with whipped cream / lick / … topping of chopped nuts and cherries is optional.” “He was writing scores that were Fluxus-like, before Fluxus,” the artist Geoffrey Hendricks told me today.
One his most infamous and most photogenic pieces, Variations for Double-Bass (1962), called for a solo performer to “agitate strings” of the instrument with a comb and corrugated cardboard, and balance it upside-down on its scroll while rubbing a rubber object against its strings. A typed version of the score for that work is now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York as part of the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection.
Asked about the impetus for those early radical works years later, Patterson told an interviewer, “There was a great protest, let’s say, against the materialism of the art market and buying and selling and so forth was not what we, as young idealists who wanted to change the world, thought was the purpose of art—it was to change the way people think, or to open their thinking.”
Benjamin Patterson was born in Pittsburgh in 1934, and graduated from the University of Michigan, in Ann Arbor, in 1956 with a degree in music. Like many his brethren in the Fluxus and experimental music movements of the 1960s, his interest in ostensibly simple, vanguard composition betrayed his talent in traditional techniques. He was a virtuosic double bassist but could not find a job in the United States because he was black, and so he played with various orchestral groups in Canada, including the Halifax Symphony Orchestra and the Ottawa Philharmonic Orchestra (as principal bassist).
It was in Halifax that he fell in with people involved with the government-funded electronic music center, which eventually led to a letter of introduction to Karlheinz Stockhausen, whom he met one evening after a performance in Germany in 1960. Patterson was rather put off by the maestro’s notorious haughtiness, but the next evening had the chance to catch a show with John Cage and David Tudor performing. “I was quite, let’s say, astonished,” he recalled later, adding, “I thought to myself, this is what I had had in the back of my mind as to how music could be made but never thought that anyone would take it seriously or that I could even produce it. So here it was.” After the concert, he introduced himself to Cage, who asked him, “Would you like to perform with us tomorrow night?” He did.
Patterson quickly fell in with the new-music crowd and went on to perform throughout Europe in the coming years, helping George Maciunas stage the first Fluxus International Festival, in 1962, in Wiesbaden, Germany. But around 1970 Patterson stopped regularly performing and releasing new work, instead working as a reference librarian (he had obtained a master’s in library science from Columbia University in 1967), a concert manager (forming his own company, Ben Patterson Ltd.), and in other arts-related positions.
This Duchampian departure from the art scene was, in fact, motivated by practical concerns, Patterson told Interview magazine in 2013. “Family was coming along, and papa needed to earn money,” he said. “If any Fluxus works were being sold at that point, it was for a penny or dollar per piece, so there was not much money to be made. I maintained my interest and followed what was going on, and from time to time would create small pieces, but it wasn’t a full-time occupation. Eventually [my] children grew up, finished university, and then it was possible to devote 100 percent of my time to artwork again.” He is survived by three children, Ennis, Barbro, and Tobias, and two grandchildren.
Around 1987, he did indeed return to art, creating witty assemblages out of found objects, performing, and staging participatory artworks. (In the 1960s he had also made visual art, like what he called “puzzle poems,” collages that could be pieced together by participants.) In 2010 the Contemporary Arts Museum Houston staged a retrospective of his work, “Benjamin Patterson: Born in the State of Flux/Us,” which traveled to the Studio Museum in Harlem and the Nassauischer Kunstverein in Wiesbaden. That show was “long overdue,” Hendricks said, adding, “My gut feeling is that Ben’s contribution to the whole movement is greater than is recognized, and I suspect there’s a touch of racism in all of that.”
Once he returned to making art full time, Patterson worked intensely, frequently staging performances and shows around the world. “I say artists are like old cowboys; they die with their boots on,” Patterson said in that Interview piece. “I hope to continue until the last day. I certainly have no intentions to sit on the sofa and watch television for 10 hours a day.” Explaining his work, he said later in the article, “What I try to do is open people’s minds, ears, and eyes, not necessarily with shock technique, but with surprises and unexpected things so they become more aware and sensitive to the world around them.”
Discussing his Fluxus days, Patterson emphasized in another interview that he and his compatriots made work that resisted commodification. “It was something you experienced, and that was it,” he said. “You couldn’t take it away.”
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Thursday, June 16, 2016
Louisa Matthíasdóttir/Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jonsson
Louisa Matthíasdóttir/Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jonsson
by Hovey Brock
TIBOR DE NAGY GALLERY | MAY 5 – JUNE 17, 2016
Iceland has been punching well above its weight in the cultural arena for the last twenty years. With a population the size of Santa Ana, California, it has produced more than its fair share of musicians, and artists, including the odd alt-pop diva. Tibor de Nagy’s pairing of two artists from Iceland shows the country’s impact on their sensibilities. At first blush, they seem quite different. Louisa Matthíasdóttir (1917 – 2000), two generations older than Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jonsson (b. 1963), made representational paintings whose geometric severity borders on Cubism. Jonsson, an abstract fabric artist, bases her fluid, organic forms on photographs of nature in her native country. Both artists, however share a taste for vibrant hues and strong, simplified forms. What’s more, each, in her own way, pays tribute to Iceland’s unique natural beauty—its mountains, surreal volcanic outcroppings, and treeless vistas.I
Matthíasdóttir’s career began in Iceland in the ’30s, where she established herself as a member of its avant-garde scene. In the 1940s she moved to New York and studied with Hans Hoffmann; she influenced fellow Hoffmann students (Jane Freilicher, Larry Rivers, Robert de Niro, Sr., and others) to revive representational painting from a perspective informed by Hoffmann’s theories on abstract art. In Matthíasdóttir’s case, she expressed her synthesis of abstraction and representation by dividing the picture plane into discrete sections of color, as if she were creating a map.
In the current exhibition, there are fifteen paintings from her mature period between the 1970s and 1990s. They are all paintings of Iceland, where she regularly returned with her husband, the painter Leland Bell. Her surfaces, switching freely between thick and thin passages, show a quick, decisive hand with little evidence of pentimenti or erasures. The subjects alternate between scenes of sheep grazing in the countryside, views of Reykjavik, and small seaside villages. Her compositions work best where her abstract and representational tendencies are in almost perfect balance. Icelandic Village (1991) shows a number of small buildings pitched at odd angles by the ocean-side; Matthíasdóttir creates a strong effect in the way she combines their shapes. The procession of brightly colored polygons, axes just slightly off-kilter, makes for a jazzy polyrhythmic dance in the foreground. She offsets all of this activity with the gently curving shoreline, and then above that the flat horizon line of the ocean, which creates a foil for all the energetic goings-on below. Reykjavik Harbor (1987) succeeds in much the same way: Matthíasdóttir makes a nice contrast between the densely packed angular buildings in the foreground and the graceful horseshoe of the seawall that seems to float above the city in the distance. Mountain and Sheep (1989) has lyrical color passages of mountain peaks looming in the distance, but it lacks the expressive tension of compression and expansion in the two previous paintings.
Matthíasdóttir, Reykjavik Harbor, 1987. Oil on canvas. 19 × 27 inches. Courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery.
Jonsson’s fabrics in this show are the same size as Matthíasdóttir’s easel paintings. Unfortunately, the gallery could not include one of her larger works, which make a great visual impact. She creates the shimmering images in her silk textiles through a process similar to ikats. She organizes the warp (vertical) threads on a loom, detaches them, and paints her image. After painting the threads, she reattaches them to the loom and weaves in the weft (horizontal thread) to create her fabric. In the process of weaving into the reattached warp, the painted threads run ever so slightly off register, which accounts for the shimmer. As the titles in this exhibit suggest, Jonsson based most of the images on her close-up photographs of lichen formations. Yet the images themselves have an indeterminate scale: they could also be aerial photographs of islands off a seacoast. Lichen 2 (2016) has a rich palette of saffron-yellow patches on a saturated burgundy-red background, a color pairing that occurs throughout this series. Jonsson offsets the intensity in Lichen 2 and other pieces with light touches of other dyes, which emphasizes their fluidity. Jonsson’s ability to work wet dyes into wet gives her fabrics a painterly appeal that ikats lack, as they depend on resists to create their patterns.
Hildur Ásgeirsdóttir Jonsson, Lichen 2, 2016. Silk and dyes. 27 × 28 inches. Courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery.
One thread that runs through both artists’ work is a strange, otherworldly beauty, which aptly describes Iceland’s rural scenery. In Matthíasdóttir’s work, the influence of that scenery is more obvious, as her paintings actually depict it. On a subtler level, the sharp contrasts that she brings to her color and shapes also convey the bleak, seductive rigor of the landscape. Like Matthíasdóttir, Jonsson returns to Iceland every year for thematic inspiration. Apparently, she also returns to reconnect with the land itself. There, everything, including the very earth, which is located as it is on a tectonic boundary, is in a perpetual state of becoming, flowing from one form to another. Flow also appears in Matthíasdóttir’s work, where her compositions seem to follow a powerful lateral pull created by the mountains, sea, and even the buildings on the landscape. This is another thread, the pull of the Iceland’s natural world, at times austere, at others times stunning, that weaves its way through the work of these highly accomplished artists, binding them to their native land.