Terry Fox (artist)

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Terry Fox in 1967

Terry Alan Fox (May 10, 1943[1] – 14 October 2008)[2] was an American conceptual artist known for his work in performance art, video, and sound. He was of the first generation conceptual artists and was a central participant in West Coast performance art, video and conceptual art movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s.[3] Fox was active in San Francisco and in Europe, living in Europe in the latter portion of his life.[4]

Early life[edit]

Fox was born in 1943 in Seattle, Washington, United States.[2] At the age of seventeen in 1960, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin's disease.[5][6] Several of his artworks referenced the cycles of illness and wellness.[5] He studied art at Cornish College of the Arts (1961) at night, while working at Boeing Aircraft.[6][7] He continued his studies at Accademia di Belle Arti di Roma (1962).[8][6]


Fox was an important figure in post-minimal sculpture, conceptual art, performance, and video art on the West Coast. Before permanently moving to Europe, he was based in San Francisco in the late 1960s and 1970s and was associated with the underground art scene.[3] Fox moved often and lived in the following cities: Rome (1962), San Francisco (1963–1966, late 1968–1978), Paris (1967–early 1968, 1972), Naples (1983–1984), New York City (1978–1979).[6][9] In 1980, he moved to Europe permanently and eventually settled in Liège, Belgium.[6]

His seminal series of works (environments, performances, sculptures, drawings) produced over an eight-year period was based on the theme of the configuration of the Chartres labyrinth.[4]

Fox died in Cologne, Germany on 14 October 2008.[2]


In 1963, Fox relocated to San Francisco where he created paintings inspired by Arthur Rimbaud until 1967. He was working at the post office at this time in preparation for traveling abroad.[1] In 1966 he produced a series of "black mirror paintings"; these were made by spraying opaque black paint on clear glass, effectively producing a mirror surface. The black paint facing the wall was hand etched with faint words and scratches, and were shown with the "shiny side out".[clarification needed] Occasionally blue paint would be applied to the scratched areas on the back side of the glass such that viewers would see themselves reflected in the black mirrors, and in certain lighting conditions would see the faint blue scratches and words.[10]

In 1967 Fox moved to Amsterdam where he continued painting; then moved on to create his first "actions". These performative works were inspired by the Fluxus movement. The following year he relocated to Paris where he began to produce process-oriented sculptures, "street actions", as well as two dimensional works on paper such as drawings and frottages from various surfaces.[1] Fox collaborated with the painter William T. Wiley on the process piece, Dust Exchange, which he considered to be his first work of sculpture.[10]

He then traveled back to San Francisco in 1969 where he produced a series of public art events titled Pubic Theater.[1] The following year Reese Palley Gallery presented the first solo exhibition of his work, which included Fox's first sound art works.[1][10] Also in 1970, Fox collaborated on a performance, entitled Isolation Unit, with the German artist, Joseph Beuys. This was presented at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (where Beuys was teaching at that time); a sound work was produced in conjunction with the performance and published in the form of an EP record.[1]

In 1971, Fox was awarded a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts which he used to purchase a Portapak analogue videotape recorder and sound equipment.[1] He was largely self taught in video art.[6]

He was in remission of Hodgkin's Disease by 1972[6] having had major surgery earlier that year. He began making works for Documenta 5, in Kassel, based on the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth.[1] For the resulting drawings, performances and sculptures including Yield, he performed a series "of continuous trancelike actions that took place over three days in an elaborate built environment. While viewers watched from a balcony, Fox ritualistically performed such activities as creating skeletal outlines on the floor in flour, blowing smoke, and baking bread."[11]

In 1973, the Berkeley University Art Museum presented the first one-person museum show of Fox's work. The exhibition curator, Brenda Richardson, wrote: "The impact of Fox's work is total: either you see it not at all, or you see it through and through, to its center, to its heart beat. It has no ambiguity; it is black and white not only in color but also in concept; Fox installations are stark and pure, and leave no room for equivocation."[12] He would later have another solo show at the same museum in 1987.[1]

The following year Fox received a grant to produce Children's Tapes from the National Endowment for the Arts. The series of videos were presented at the Everson Museum.[12] Documentation of these works were later exhibited in a 2024 solo exhibition, titled All These Different Things are Sculpture, at Artists Space in New York City.[13]

In 1985, the Kunstraum Munich presented a solo show; and in 1988, he created a permanent outdoor installation at Via Toscanella in Florence, Italy. This was followed, in 1989, with a show of sound works at the Het Appollohuis in Eindhoven.[1]

In 1996, Fox was awarded with a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation.[1] This was followed, in 1998, with a book and CD on his sound works, Terry Fox Works with Sound, published in conjunction with the Stadtgalerie Saarbrüken.[14] In 2000, another book on his work was published, Terry Fox: 30 Years of Speaking and Writing about Art, published in conjunction with the Gesellschaft für Aktuelle Kunst, in Bremen.[15]

In 2019, eleven years after his death, a series of events titled Resonance, also referred to as The Terry Fox Extravaganza, was presented at eight different venues over the course of two months, beginning at Grace Cathedral.[16]

Significant works[edit]

Fox performing Levitation, 1970

Levitation – In 1970 Fox produced a extended-duration sculptural performance, Levitation, that addressed the artist's emotions and physical symptoms of Hodgkin's lymphoma, while also addressing notions of wellness and health. To prepare, Fox fasted for days before the performance. During the performance, he lay on a mound of dirt for six hours attempting to levitate while holding long, flexible tubes of elemental fluids, as "a metaphor for transfiguration". While focused on leaving contact with the earth and "rising up into the air," he felt that he had "achieved a state of levitation that lasted more than two hours."[5] The artist believed this to be his strongest work of sculpture, stating that the "whole room was energized".[11]

Fox performed the work alone in a darkened room at the Richmond Art Center. After the performance, spectators could see the four tubes of fluids, water, blood, urine and milk, as well as the concave imprint of his body left in the dirt. The critic Peter Plagens described the work in Artforum as a "skeptical, passionate, honest" attempt to "charge the space" with energy and possibility. Comparing Levitation to Fox's earlier Hospital piece, he described both works as a poetic narrative of "Fox's struggle with his imperfect body, which is the artist's struggle with the world, which is our struggle with our treacherous selves."[17]

Terry Fox, Instruments to be Played by the Movement of the Earth, 1987, installation detail

Instruments to be Played by the Movement of the Earth (1987) – This time-based sonic installation was presented at the Capp Street Project in San Francisco.[18] In the article, Rethinking Acoustic Ecology: Sound Art and Environment, Gascia Ouzounian, writes that the installation embodies an acoustic ecology where the environment itself is "seen as possessing agency and voice." Consisting of a scattering of objects designed to be "acoustically activated" by the subtle movements arising from Earth itself. Rather than recording environmental sounds, Fox created an "unfixed" situation with "instruments" that created sound in response to seismic activity and earthly vibrations which are common in the San Francisco Bay Area.[19][20] Fox wrote of the installation:

"These instruments are to be played only in this way. No sound in the absence of vibration. Potential sound. The sounds created by the instruments will correspond to the sounds heard during an earthquake; objects falling, rolling across the floor, rumbling, glasses and plates breaking, glasses shattering, an alarm going off, etc."[21]

Thus the work was held in tension between silence, the expectation for possible sound and actual sound.[19]


Fox has been included in numerous international solo and group exhibitions including the documenta 5, Kassel, 1975 Whitney Biennial and 1984 Venice Biennale. He had two major exhibitions in Berkeley, his first solo museum show curated by Brenda Richardson in 1973, and one in 1985 organized around the body of works owned by the Berkeley Art Museum organized by Constance Lewallen. His retrospective solo exhibition was organized by the Kunsthalle Fridericianum, Kassel in 2003.[11]


Performance work[edit]

Performance work
Year Title Type Location Notes
1968–1969 Public Theater events and posters in outdoor locations San Francisco Bay Area
1970 Isolation Unit action/performance with Joseph Beuys Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, Düsseldorf, Germany
1970 Wall Push action/performance Museum of Conceptual Art, San Francisco, California
1970 Defoliation action/performance University Art Museum, Berkeley, California
1971 Levitation action/performance, installation Richmond Art Center, Richmond, California [22]


Year Title Type Runtime Notes
1970 Rain Super 8 film, black and white 3 minutes
1970 Sweat Super 8 film, black and white 3 minutes
1970 Breath Super 8 film, color 3 minutes
1970 Tonguings videotape 30 minutes
1970 Rakes Progress videotape 30 minutes
1971 Turgescent Sex videotape 40 minutes
1971 Needles Punctured film 30 minutes
1971 Clutch videotape 50 minutes
1972 Washing film 15 minutes
1972 Azione per un Bacile Super 8 film, color 30 minutes
1972 The fire... videotape, color 30 minutes
1973 Incision videotape 15 minutes
1974 Children's Tapes videotape, black and white 30 minutes [2][4]
1976 Timbre videotape of performance 30 minutes Camera work by Al Wong[23]
1976 Lunar Rambles videotape, color 33 minutes [24]


  • Berlino\Rallentando. LP record. Eindhoven, The Netherlands: Het Appollohuis, 1989.
  • Isolation Unit (Terry Fox: Pipes; Joseph Beuys: Seeds). (Extended play record, produced by the artists), 1970. Edition 500.
  • Linkage. LP record with text by Martin Kunz. Lucerne, Switzerland: Kunstmuseum, 1982.
  • Mag Magazine #3: Joan La Barbara/Terry Fox. Audiocassette edition. Vienna, Austria: Galerie Grita Insam, 1979.
  • Revolutions per Minute. One cut on record of artists' sound works. New York: Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, 1982.
  • The Labyrinth Scored for the Purrs of 11 Different Cats. Audiocassette. Eindhoven, The Netherlands: Het Appollohuis, 1989.


  • Richardson, Brenda. Terry Fox. Berkeley: University Art Museum, University of California, 1973.
  • Foley, Suzanne. Space Time Sound, Conceptual Art in the San Francisco Bay Area: The 1970s. San Francisco: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, 1981. ISBN 0-295-95879-0
  • Albright, Thomas. Art of the San Francisco Bay Area, 1945 – 1980. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. ISBN 0-520-05193-9, ISBN 978-0-520-05193-5
  • University of Massachusetts Amherst, University Gallery. In site: five conceptual artists from the Bay Area: Terry Fox, Howard Fried, David Ireland, Paul Kos, Tom Marioni: University Gallery, Fine Arts Center, University of Massachusetts Amherst, February 2 March 17, 1990. Amherst: University Gallery, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 1990.
  • Von Wiese, Stephan and Fricke, Christiane. Terry Fox: Objects (Texts) / Drawings (Texts), Galerie Löhrl, Mönchengladbach, Germany. 1991.
  • Fox, Terry, Eva Schmidt, Matthias Osterwold, Bern Schulz; Terry Fox: Works with Sound. Kehrer; 2003, ISBN 3-933257-04-2
  • Phillips, Glenn, ed. California Video: Artists and Histories. Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute and J. Paul Getty Museum, 2008, ISBN 978-0-89236-922-5


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k "Terry Fox". Recalling Terry Fox. Terry Fox Archive. Retrieved 14 March 2024.
  2. ^ a b c d "Terry Fox". Smithsonian American Art Museum. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  3. ^ a b Neff, Eileen (April 1993). "Eileen Neff on Terry Fox". ArtForum magazine. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  4. ^ a b c "Terry Fox: Resonance". The Lab. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  5. ^ a b c Rosenmeyer, Aoife (2017-05-26). "Terry Fox". ARTnews.com. Retrieved 2020-10-29.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g Nash, Steven A.; Berkson, Bill (1995-01-01). Facing Eden: 100 Years of Landscape Art in the Bay Area. University of California Press. p. 193. ISBN 978-0-520-20363-1.
  7. ^ Montano, Linda (2000). Performance Artists Talking in the Eighties. University of California Press. p. 500. ISBN 978-0-520-21022-6.
  8. ^ "Terry Fox Biography". Electronic Arts Intermix. Archived from the original on 2011-01-21. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  9. ^ Lewallen, Constance; Moss, Karen; Bryan-Wilson, Julia; Rorimer, Anne (2011-10-31). State of Mind: New California Art Circa 1970. Univ of California Press. p. 259. ISBN 978-0-520-27061-9.
  10. ^ a b c Fox, Terry; Sharp, Willoughby; Béar, Liza (Elizabeth) (Winter 1971). "Terry Fox, "I wanted to have my mood affect their looks"". Avalanche.
  11. ^ a b c Jackson, Danielle A. "Terry Fox: The Simplist Kind of Nothing". Artists Space. Retrieved 14 March 2024.
  12. ^ a b Richardson, Brenda (1973). Terry Fox. Berkeley, California: Berkeley University Art Museum (Library of Congress catalog number 73-620112).
  13. ^ Ammerati, Dominick (2024). All These Different Things are Sculpture. New York City: Artists Space.
  14. ^ Schulz, Bernd (1999). Terry Fox Works With Sound. Heidelberg: Kehrer. Retrieved 14 March 2024.
  15. ^ Schmidt, Eva (2000). Terry Fox 30 Years of Speaking and Writing about art. Cologne, Germany. ISBN 3897700921. Retrieved 14 March 2024. {{cite book}}: |work= ignored (help)CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  16. ^ Maier-Katkin, Hannah (November 2019). "Terry Fox: Resonance". Brooklyn Rail. Retrieved 14 March 2024.
  17. ^ Plagens, Peter (February 1972). "San Francisco, Terry Fox". Artforum. Retrieved 15 March 2024.
  18. ^ "Instruments to be Played by the Movement of the Earth". Vault Library Collection. California College of the Arts. Retrieved 15 March 2024.
  19. ^ a b Ouzounian, Gascia (2017). "Rethinking Acoustic Ecology: Sound Art and Environment" (PDF). Evental Aesthetics. 6 (1): 10–11. Retrieved 15 March 2024.
  20. ^ Van Proyen, Mark (24 October 1987). "Looking for Geomantic Imperatives". Artweek Magazine.
  21. ^ Terry Fox, Artist Statement, Instruments to be Played by the Earth, Capp Street Project Archive, held in the Special Collections of the California College of the Arts
  22. ^ "Tom Marioni / MATRIX 39 | BAMPFA". UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA, BERKELEY ART MUSEUM & PACIFIC FILM ARCHIVE. The Regents of the University of California. 22 December 2014. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  23. ^ "Terry Fox: Timbre". Open Space. 13 March 2013. Retrieved 2020-10-28.
  24. ^ "Electronic Arts Intermix: Lunar Rambles: Brooklyn Bridge, Terry Fox; The Kitchen". www.eai.org. Retrieved 2020-10-28.

External links[edit]