Monday, September 30, 2013

Bas Jan Ader, Death is Elsewhere by Alexander Dumbadze, 2013, The University of Chicago Press

There are very few books written about Bas Jan Ader, the Dutch artist who is considered to have died while attempting to sail across the Atlantic for his piece, In Search of the Miraculous in 1975.  Alexander Dumbadze has lit another torch to Ader’s life and art with his book, Bas Jan Ader, Death is Elsewhere.  There is awkwardness to the book at times especially at the start but by the end, Dumbadze presents detail and context to Ader’s work that enlightens, if not completely reveals.  This will always be the situation faced by anyone who writes of Ader. Ader was a different type of artist, even in his time.  There is not an abundance of work or archived evidence of those works or the thought processes behind those works.  There are little trails left that Dumbadze zooms into and wets in order to expand context. 

Through this investigation of these crumbs, Dumbadze gives setting to Ader’s work.  His peers and friends and those that were making work at the time that may have influenced him.  Learning about Allen Ruppersberg and his Al’s CafĂ© and Al’s Grand Hotel was a sheer delight. And having Ader contextualized with the work of Chris Burden and Jack Goldstein shifted the ways in seeing the works of all these artists.  The book is about Ader but it is also heavily an art historical reflection, which at times may seem a grasp, but overall creates a foundation, albeit perhaps by Dumdabze’s design. 

There is a lot to be learned about Ader in this book.  There are no equivocations and that seems the necessary thing to do.  The idea of an artist living life, the idea of retreat, of privacy, of solitude, of reacting to the idea that “everything could be art”, of representation, and of disappearing are all tapped at and feel somehow new and specific when through the lens of Ader’s works and life. 

This book is a labor of love.  You can feel that when you read it.  I only wish that there was more.  I am not sure how much more there is, but somehow this book seems like a codex for something bigger to come.  This want of more had me reading through all the notes, something done for an instance of two usually but for this book it was a captive page-turner. 

If you like Bas Jan Ader’s work, you always will.  His work sticks to you and becomes a part of you in a way few artists do.  If you do not know about his work or his story then read this.  It will dip you into this puzzle and magnet that is art. 

* also recommended reading on Ader: Bas Jan Ader : In Search of the Miraculous by Jan Verwoert, Afterall 2006