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March 29, 1999

Major retrospective of conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader opens at Sesnon April 6

By Barbara McKenna

A retrospective of the photography, collages, and films of Bas Jan Ader opens April 6 at the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery. The gallery will present a comprehensive look at the art and life of Ader, whose artistic experimentation encompassed such mediums as photography, video, performance, and, some might say, his own life.

One of Bas Jan Ader's performance pieces featured himself falling off the bank of an Amsterdam canal... (more photos)

An opening reception takes place on Wednesday, April 7, from 5 to 7 p.m. in the Sesnon Art Gallery, with a curator's talk at 6 p.m. by Brad Spence, former gallery director at UC Irvine. The exhibition runs April 6 through May 1.

Ader, a member of UC Irvine's studio art faculty, died at the age of 33 in 1975 during a performance piece in which he attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a 13-foot sailboat. Throughout his artistic career, Ader was interested in the artistic persona and the concept of boundaries between art and life. His work was largely inspired by the practices of conceptual and performance art that were emerging as he began his career. His work often bore the trademark of these art forms, centering on the body. Like many of his contemporaries, Ader used photography to document his performances. In one such project, titled Fall, Ader photographed and filmed his own body falling from a tree in a meadow, the roof of his California bungalow, and the bank of an Amsterdam canal.

After establishing himself as an artist in California, Ader, who came to the U.S. from the Netherlands when he was 21, decided to return to Europe. He conceived of a solo voyage across the Atlantic, from Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to Cornwall, England, that would express the theme of isolated, stranded nomadism.

Ader and his piece, In Search of the Miraculous, set sail from Cape Cod on July 9, 1975. Undertaken with every expectation of success, Ader had arranged for a show documenting the feat at the Groeninger Museum in Amsterdam, and planned to exploit the success of the 60-day crossing with further exhibitions of material--diaries, film, photography--generated by the piece. Ader never reached his destination; six months later his boat was found half-submerged off the coast of Ireland.

According to Spence, this is the first major exhibition of Bas Jan Ader's work in the U.S. Spence describes Ader as an influential figure in the L.A. art scene who attained a cult status through the circumstances of his death.

A catalog, with essays by Yale art historian, Thomas Crow and Los Angeles art critic Jan Tumlir, accompanies the exhibition. The exhibition premiered at UC Irvine and will travel to the Sweeney Art Gallery at UC Riverside after it closes at the Sesnon Art Gallery.

Gallery hours are Tuesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call (831) 459-3606.

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