Bas Jan Ader

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Bas Jan Ader
Bas Jan Ader at his MFA exhibition "Implosion" Claremont, CA 1967.jpg
Bas Jan Ader at his MFA exhibition Implosion, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, CA, 1967.
Born 19 April 1942
Winschoten, the Netherlands
Disappeared 1975 (aged 33)
North Atlantic Ocean
Status Presumed dead
Nationality Dutch and American
Education Claremont Graduate University
Otis College of Art and Design
Known for Photography, film, video, performance and installation
Notable work I'm too sad to tell you
Movement Conceptual art
Spouse(s) Mary Sue Ader-Anderson

Bastiaan Johan Christiaan "Bas Jan" Ader (19 April 1942 – 1975) was a Dutch conceptual artist, performance artist, photographer and filmmaker. He lived in Los Angeles for the last twelve years of his life.[1] 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, three weeks after he set off from the United States in a small sailing boat, attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean and reach the United Kingdom. Ader's deserted vessel was found off the coast of Ireland on April 18, 1976, offering few clues as to his fate.[2]

Early life and education[edit]

Born on 19 April 1942, Ader grew up in the city of Winschoten, in the northern Netherlands. His father, Bastiaan Jan Ader and his mother Johanna Adriana Ader-Appels were both Calvinist ministers. His father was executed in 1944 by the German occupying force for helping Jews escape The Holocaust. His mother raised him and his brother.[3]

During adolescence, Ader took art classes at the Gerrit 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 University in 1967. After graduating, he taught at various institutions, including Mt. San Antonio College, Immaculate Heart College, and the University of California, Irvine.


Ader created a handful of photographs as well as several short black-and-white films in which he is the sole performer.[4] One of his most famous works, I'm too sad to tell you, consists of a 3-minute silent black-and-white movie of him crying, several photographs (long hair and short hair versions) and a post card mailed to his friends with the inscription "I'm too sad to tell you".[5] The tears may be seen as real due to the tradition of the “melancholy white male artist” and yet may also be suspect as being a performance for the camera. This tension is characteristic of Ader and has inspired many artists to create homages to his work.[6] The work is seen as being conceptual art but in the romantic art tradition due to the expression of emotion. It is an ironic statement of the artist taking on all of the embarrassment while leaving it open to the viewer as to whether or not to take on the embarrassment as well.[7]

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.[4]

In 1969–70 he anonymously published the satirical conceptual art magazine Landslide with his friend William Leavitt. The magazine featured “interviews” with nonexistent artists, such as “Brian Shitart”, and pranks such as “expandable sculpture” which was five packing peanuts in an envelope. Although satirical of conceptual art, the magazine itself is considered a work of conceptual art.[8][9]

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 Los Angeles while he set sail from Cape Cod, Massachusetts in a small sailing craft headed on a solo trip to Falmouth, Cornwall where he had planned for another choir to sing shanties upon his arrival. Due to his loss at sea, the piece was not completed.[4] The title “In Search of the Miraculous” was a reference to P. D. Ouspensky's mystical book In Search of the Miraculous.[10]


On July 9, 1975, Ader set off in a 13 ft (4.0 m) “Guppy 13” pocket cruiser named Ocean Wave, to make his single-handed west–east crossing of the North Atlantic. Having estimated that the voyage should take him no longer than two and a half months, Ader only managed to stay in touch for three weeks before radio contact broke off. His unmanned boat would not be found until ten months later, floating vertically 150 mi (240 km) west-southwest of the Irish coast.

Although the vessel had been spotted 60 mi (97 km) off the American East Coast and again near the Azores, its sole crewman was never heard from again and is presumed dead. It remains to be seen whether Ader was dragged to his death by a rogue wave, became disorientated and jumped overboard, or whether his intention in staging his last work had been to commit suicide.[4] The boat itself, recovered by the Spanish fishing vessel that found it, was taken to Coruña from where it was stolen some time between May 18 and June 7, 1976.[11]

Ader's mother wrote the poem From the Deep Waters of Sleep on October 12, 1975, after having what she described as a premonition of his death:

From the deep waters of sleep I wake up to consciousness.
In the distance I hear a train rumbling in the early morning.
It is going East and passes the border. Then it will stop.

I feel my heart beating too. It will go on beating for some time.
Then it will stop.
I wonder if the little heart that has beaten with mine, has stopped.
When he passed the border of birth, I laid him at my breast,
Rocked him in my arms.
He was very small then.

A white body of a man, rocked in the arms of the waves,
Is very small too.

What are we in the infinity of ocean and sky?
A small baby at the breast of eternity.

Have you heard of happiness
Springing from a deep well of sorrow?
Of love, springing from pain and despondency, agony and death?
Such is mine.


Exhibitions, reception and impact[edit]

In 1961, 19 year old Ader exhibited his works at three galleries in Washington DC[13] and received a positive review in The Washington Post.[14] He became a minor sensation, being interviewed by The Voice of America and by the press in his native Holland.[15] In 1967, he gained his Master of Fine Arts with his project Implosion at Claremont Graduate School.[16]

During his lifetime, Ader had solo exhibitions at the Chouinard Art School, Los Angeles (1970), and the galleries Art & Project, Amsterdam (1972), Kabinett für Aktuelle Kunst, Bremerhaven, Germany (1972, 1974) and the Claire S. Copley Gallery, Los Angeles (1975).[17] Also in his lifetime, Ader had a two-person exhibition with William Leavitt at the Nova Scotia School of Art and Design (1972), a conceptual hotbed at the time, as well as a number of group exhibitions in Europe and the US with such artists as Leavitt, Ger van Elk, Gilbert & George, Jack Goldstein, Allen Ruppersberg, John Baldessari and Marcel Broodthaers among others.[18] Ader’s work was also included in the important international survey exhibitions Prospekt ’71: Projektion at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (1971), and Sonsbeek ’71, Groningen, Holland. (1971).[19]

Since his disappearance, Ader's work has been exhibited in solo exhibitions at institutions worldwide including the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (1988), the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (1993, 2006), Kunstverein München, Munich (1994, 2000), Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1994), Kunstverein Braunschweig, Germany (2000), Portikus, Frankfurt (2003), and the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City (2004).

Ader's first retrospective in the United States took place in 1999 at the University of California, Irvine,[20] and travelled to two other venues; the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery, University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Sweeney Art Gallery at the University of California, Riverside. It was curated by Brad Spence[21] with a catalogue including contributions by Thomas Crow, Jan Tumlir, and Spence. In 2006, Camden Arts Centre, London held a European retrospective of his works which travelled to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam and the Kunsthalle Basel, Switzerland.[19] More recent solo exhibitions include In Search of the Miraculous: 30 Years Later, Centro Gallego de Arte Contemporáneo, Santiago de Compostela, Spain (2010), Suspended Between Laughter and Tears, Pitzer Art Galleries, Pitzer College, Claremont CA (2010), which travelled to the Museo de Arte Zapopan, Mexico, and the artist's first Italian retrospective Tra Due Mondi, MAMbo, Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna, Bologna, Italy (2013).

Erika Yeomans' conceptual documentary In Search of Bas Jan's Miraculous (1998, 40 minutes, mixed media) on Ader's life and art was featured on This American Life in 1996.[22]

Inspired by Ader, digital movie pioneer Rene Daalder proposed a new genre of art called “Gravity Art” in 2008. Gravity Art is based on the idea of gravity as a medium.[23] Bas Jan Ader is seen as the founder of this genre for the themes in his work of falling and letting go.[24]

The artist's estate is represented by Meliksetian | Briggs, Los Angeles.[25]

See also[edit]


Specific references
  1. ^ Wolfs, Rein, ed. (2006). Please don't leave me (1st - English ed.). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. p. 172. ISBN 90-6918-216-5. 
  2. ^ Sydney Morning Herald article, Stage Fright by John Macdonald, June 29, 2013
  3. ^ Rene Daalder, “Here is Always Somewhere Else: The Disappearance of Bas Jan Ader”, documentary 2007
  4. ^ a b c d Richard Dorment (9 May 2006). "The artist who sailed to oblivion - Telegraph". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 4 July 2014. 
  5. ^ Cindy Loehr, “Bas Jan Ader: Retrospective”, New Art Examiner, March 2000
  6. ^ Jennifer Doyle, “Hold it Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art”, Duke University Press, 12 March 2013
  7. ^ Jörg Heiser, “All of a Sudden: Things that Matter in Contemporary Art”, Art & Research, A Journal of Ideas, Contexts, and Methods, Summer 2008
  8. ^ Gwen Allen “Artists' Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art”, MIT Press 2011
  9. ^ Erik Bluhm, “Minimalism's Rubble: On William Leavitt's and Bas Jan Ader's Landslide (1969-70), ArtUS, Nov. 2005, p 14-17
  10. ^ Constance Lewallen and Phong Bui, “InConversation”, The Brooklyn Rail, 5 July 2013
  11. ^ 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.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  12. ^
  13. ^ Erik Beenker (2006). Wolfs, Rein, ed. Please don't leave me (1st ed.). Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. p. 14. ISBN 90-6918-216-5. 
  14. ^ Wolfs ed. 2006 p.14
  15. ^ Wolfs ed. 2006, p.14
  16. ^ Wolfs ed. 2006, p.159
  17. ^ Wolfs ed. 2006, p. 159
  18. ^ Wolfs ed. 2006, p.160
  19. ^ a b Wolfs ed. 2006 p.160
  20. ^ Hainley, Bruce (March 1999). "Legend of the Fall". Artforum. XXXVII (7): 90. 
  21. ^ Sweeney Art Gallery Ader announcement
  22. ^ "From a Distance", This American Life, December 27, 1996
  23. ^ “Gravity Art” Telic Arts Exchange, 26 April 2008
  24. ^ Matthias Planitzer, “Bas Jan Ader and gravity on the art of letting go”, Castor & Pollux, 26 July 2009
  25. ^ Cooper, Ashton. "Meliksetian Briggs Now Reps Estate of Bas Jan Ader". Blouin Media. Retrieved 21 November 2014. 
Other sources
  • Jan Verwoert, Bas Jan Ader: In Search of the Miraculous, London: Afterall Books, 2006. ISBN 1-84638-002-2.
  • Maike Aden-Schraenen, In Search of Bas Jan Ader, Berlin: Logos Verlag, 2013. ISBN 978-3-8325-2295-7.
  • Alexander Dumbadze, Bas Jan Ader: Death Is Elsewhere, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-226-03853-7.

Further reading[edit]

  • Dumbadze, Alexander (2013). Bas Jan Ader. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 978-0-226-03853-7. 
  • Wei, Lilly (May 2014). "Vanishing Artist". Art in America (New York: Brant Publications): 57–60. 

External links[edit]