Bas Jan Ader

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Bas Jan Ader
Born 19 April 1942
Winschoten, Netherlands
Died Lost at sea, 1975 (Approx. aged 33)

Claremont Graduate University

Otis College of Art and Design
Occupation Artist/Photographer/film-maker (former)

Bastiaan Johan Christiaan "Bas Jan" Ader (1942-1975) was a Dutch conceptual artist, performance artist, photographer and filmmaker. He lived in Los Angeles for the last 10 years of his life. Ader's work was in many instances presented as photographs and film of his performances. He also made performative installations, including Please Don't Leave Me (1969). Ader was lost at sea in 1975 between Cape Cod, Massachusetts, United States and Ireland, when he set out to sea from Cape Cod in a small sailing boat as part of an attempt to cross the Atlantic Ocean. His empty boat eventually washed up on the coast of Ireland.[1]

Early life and education[edit]

Born 19 April 1942, Ader grew up in Winschoten, cared for by his mother as one of two sons of Christian minister Bastiaan Jan Ader and Johanna Adriana Ader-Appels. His father had been executed in 1944 by the German occupying force, after his involvement in the underground resistance movement.

During adolescence Ader took art classes at the Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, and later in the United States during a study abroad program. Ader graduated from the Otis College of Art and Design in 1965 with a BFA, and from the Claremont Graduate School in 1967. After graduating, he taught at various institutions, including Mount San Antonio College, Immaculate Heart College, and the University of California, Irvine.


I'm too sad to tell you (1970)

Ader created a handful of photographs as well as several short black and white films in which he is the sole performer.[2] His film I'm too sad to tell you consists of a close up of Ader crying for 10 minutes. Other films include him sitting on a chair on a pitched roof until he falls, one where he is hanging on a branch until his grip gives out and he falls into a stream, and a film where he rides his bike into a canal.[2]

In what turned out to be his final performance piece, In Search of the Miraculous, he had a choir sing sea shanties at his studio in Las Angeles while he set sail from Cape Cod in a small sailing craft headed on a solo trip to Europe where he had planned for another choir to sing shanties upon his arrival. Due to his death at sea, the piece was not completed.[2]


Ader was lost at sea while attempting a single-handed west-east crossing of the Atlantic in a 13 ft pocket cruiser, a modified Guppy 13 named "Ocean Wave". The passage was part of an art performance titled "In Search of the Miraculous". Radio contact broke off three weeks into the voyage, and Ader was presumed lost at sea. The boat was found after 10 months, floating partially submerged 150 miles West-Southwest of the coast of Ireland.

His body was never found. The boat, after being recovered by the Spanish fishing vessel that found it, was taken to Coruña. The boat was later stolen.[3] Ader's mother wrote the poem From the deep waters of sleep after having what she described as a premonition of his death.

Reception and impact[edit]

Two retrospectives have occurred, one at the Sweeney Art Gallery in Riverside in 1999, curated by Brad Spence[4] with catalogue contributions by Thomas Crow, Jan Tumlir, and Brad Spence. In 2006, Camden Arts Centre held a retrospective of his works.[2] In his review, Richard Dorment stated that while the pieces initially seem absurd, such as Ader's photograph of his clothing strewn on the roof of a house, they become poignant in the context of Ader's life - Ader's mother had frantically thrown their possession and clothing out of the windows when she was forced out of their home after her husband's death with hopes of being able to retrieve them later.[2]

Erika Yeomans' conceptual documentary In Search of Bas Jan's Miraculous (1998, 40 mins., mixed media) on Ader's life and art was featured on This American Life in 1996.[5]


Specific references
  1. ^ [1] Sydney Morning Herald article, Stage Fright by John Macdonald, June 29, 2013
  2. ^ a b c d e Richard Dorment (9 May 2006). "The artist who sailed to oblivion - Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 July 2014. 
  3. ^ Koos Dalstra, Marion van Wijk. (03/01/2007). Bas Jan Ader: In Search of the Miraculous Discovery File 143/76. Veenman Publishers. ISBN 978-90-8690-011-4. 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "From a Distance", This American Life, December 27, 1996
Other sources

External links[edit]