Suspended Between Laughter and Tears is an exhibition of video, photography, installations and archived materials from the estate of the late Dutch-born and California-based conceptual artist Bas Jan Ader, who is assumed to have perished at sea in 1975. The exhibition’s title refers to the artist’s exploration of the tenuous point between comedy and tragedy in his work. It is the first museum survey focusing on the breadth of his artistic practice mounted in the United States in over 10 years.
Ader’s work centers on short-duration acts of physical and emotional release. In the noted film and subsequent photographs titled I’m Too Sad to Tell You (1971), the artist is seen crying directly into the camera amplifying a simple human emotion – grief – into a profound and revelatory experience. Ader also makes use of the force of gravity as a medium in his performance work, as documented in film and photography. His videos, in many respects, bear an explicit physicality, which are the hallmark of many silent films. Other projects, including the unfinished trilogy In Search of the Miraculous (1975), during which the artist disappeared, stretch the boundaries of sentimentalism through existential journey.
Ader frequently referenced Dutch artistic and cultural traditions in his work. Photographs such as On the road to a new Neo Plasticism, Westkapelle, Holland (1971) reveal his interest in Mondrian and the De Stijl movement, which sought simplified compositions to express a utopian harmony. Dutch landscape and still life painting traditions can be seen in videos such as Primary Time (1974), in which the artist arranges and rearranges a red, blue and yellow bouquet of flowers, and in photographs like Farewell to Faraway Friends (1971), where the artists casts himself as a romantic wanderer – linking himself to the paintings of 19th century German artist Caspar David Friedrich – but ultimately setting the tone for his physical acts of searching.
Yet it was Ader’s unique relationship to the city of Claremont, where he lived and studied from 1965 to 1974, which established his importance as a California artist. At his Claremont home, which was located a few blocks from what is now the Claremont Museum of Art, Ader executed some of his most significant works including All My Clothes (1970) and Fall I (Los Angeles) (1970). In his Claremont studio he also produced the experimental installations Please Don’t Leave Me (1969)Reader’s Digest Digested (1970). His thesis exhibition at Claremont Graduate University in 1967 laid the groundwork for his mature works, as seen in the offset lithograph invitation to the show depicting Ader sitting on the roof of his home smoking a cigar with cartoon-like clouds and sky behind him.
Ader’s modest body of work – considered groundbreaking and visionary – continues to influence a new generation of artists. Suspended Between Laughter and Tears provides a context for his overarching themes and strategies by addressing the living aspects of his practice. In addition to Ader’s original works of art, the exhibition includes specific pieces by artists that reference his concepts and actions. For example, Los Angeles-based artist Fernando Sanchez explores the idea of failure in a series of live and web-cast performances. Furthermore, a selection of artists’ videos assembled by Dutch filmmaker Rene Daalder will be presented in the atrium windows of the Museum. This installation, collectively entitled Gravity Art, is an overview of contemporary artists utilizing gravity in their work. A special screening of Rene Daalder’s documentary on Bas Jan Ader, Here is Always Somewhere Else, will take place during the course of the exhibition. and
Invited artists who provide a current context to Ader's work are Piero Golia (Naples/Los Angeles), Martin Kersels (Los Angeles), Gonzalo Lebrija (Guadalajara), Jed Lind (Montreal/Los Angeles), Kate Newby (Auckland), Thiago Rocha Pitta (Rio de Janeiro), Fernando Sanchez (Los Angeles), Sebastian Stumpf (Leipzig), and Diego Teo (Mexico City).