Bas Jan Ader


Kunsthalle Basel will present the first retrospective exhibition of works by Bas Jan Ader in Switzerland, featuring all the key films, photographs, installations and publications produced by Ader before his untimely death in 1975.
Bas Jan Ader was born in Winschoten, The Netherlands in 1942. He moved to California in 1963, where he lived and worked until his mysterious and now mythologized disappearance whilst attempting to cross the Atlantic in a small boat. Between 1970 and 1975 he taught at various art colleges in California and exhibited widely in America, Germany and The Netherlands. Ader was influenced by the conceptual and performance-based art scene of the West Coast, including artists such as Bruce Nauman and Chris Burden. Themes of the loss and heroic – but also comic – failure take centre stage in his work. Bas Jan Ader’s work is characterised by a very particular fusion of romantic, yet humorous attitudes. Falling is a recurrent motif, documented in the short films Fall I and Fall II (both 1970), in which the artist is seen, respectively, falling from the rooftop of his house in California and plunging with his bike into a canal in Amsterdam. In another well-known work from this period, the 16mm silent film I’m too sad to tell you, Ader filmed himself weeping; the reason for his sadness was deliberately left open. Ader questioned the role of the artist in society, and the relationship between European – specifically Dutch – and American artistic traditions. He made a number of actions, documented in films and photographs, in which he referenced the Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, known for his search for harmony through a reduction of visual means. In July 1975 Ader set sail from Cape Cod, bound for Falmouth, England, as part of his final work, the three-part piece In Search of the Miraculous, which remains unfinished. For Ader the journey was also an attempt to break the world record for a one-man crossing of the Atlantic in the smallest craft to date. In April 1976 his boat, Ocean Wave, was discovered 150 miles off the Irish coast, Ader remains untraceable.

A comprehensive selection of works by Bas Jan Ader will be on display at the Kunsthalle Basel, including such seminal pieces as Please don’t leave me from 1969, all the works containing the recurrent fall theme, In Search of the Miraculous, 1975, as well as books, photographs, ephemera and documentation – altogether most of Ader’s known work.

The monograph Bas Jan Ader – Please don’t leave me accompanies the show, published in English by Museum Boijmans van Beuningen in Rotterdam, edited by Rein Wolfs, with texts by Erik Beenker and Jörg Heiser, amongst others.

The exhibition is being organized by Camden Arts Centre, London and the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen Rotterdam, in cooperation with Kunsthalle Basel.

The exhibition has received support from:
Royal Netherlands Embassy, Switzerland