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Bas Jan Ader

Bas Jan Ader
Bas Jan Ader at his MFA exhibition Implosion, Claremont Graduate University, Claremont, California, 1967.
Born 19 April 1942
Winschoten, Netherlands
Disappeared 1975
North Atlantic Ocean
Status Presumed dead
Nationality Dutch and American
Education Claremont Graduate University
Otis College of Art and Design
Known for Photography, film, video, performance and installation
Notable work I'm too sad to tell you
Movement Conceptual art
Spouse(s) Mary Sue Ader-Anderson

Bastiaan Johan Christiaan "Bas Jan" Ader (born 19 April 1942 – disappeared 1975) was a Dutch conceptual artist, performance artist, photographer and filmmaker. He had lived in Los Angeles, California for the last twelve years of his life.[1] His work was in many instances presented as photographs and film of his performances. He made performative installations, including Please Don't Leave Me (1969).

Ader was lost at sea in 1975, three weeks after he set off from the United States in a small sailing boat, attempting to cross the Atlantic Ocean and reach the United Kingdom. His deserted vessel was found off the coast of Ireland on 18 April 1976, offering few clues as to his fate.[2]


  • Early life and education 1
  • Works 2
  • Disappearance 3
  • Exhibitions, reception and impact 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • Further reading 7
  • External links 8

Early life and education

Born on 19 April 1942, Ader grew up in Winschoten, northern Netherlands. His father, Bastiaan Jan Ader and his mother Johanna Adriana Ader-Appels were both Calvinist ministers. His father was executed in 1944 by the German occupying force for helping Jews escape The Holocaust. His mother raised him and his brother.[3]

During adolescence, Ader took art classes at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam, and later in the United States during a study abroad program. Ader graduated from the Otis College of Art and Design in 1965 with a BFA, and from the Claremont Graduate University in 1967. After graduating, he taught at various institutions, including Mt. San Antonio College, Immaculate Heart College, and the University of California, Irvine.


Ader created a handful of photographs as well as several short black-and-white films in which he is the sole performer.[4]

One of his most famous works, I'm too sad to tell you, consists of a 3-minute silent black-and-white movie of him crying, several photographs (long hair and short hair versions) and a post card mailed to his friends with the inscription "I'm too sad to tell you".[5][6][7] Other films include him sitting on a chair on a pitched roof until he falls, one where he is hanging on a branch until his grip gives out and he falls into a stream, and a film in which he rides his bike into a canal.[4]

In 1969–70 he anonymously published the satirical conceptual art magazine Landslide with his friend William Leavitt. The magazine featured “interviews” with nonexistent artists, such as “Brian Shitart”, and pranks such as “expandable sculpture” which was five packing peanuts in an envelope. Although satirical of conceptual art, the magazine itself is considered a work of conceptual art.[8][9]

In what turned out to be his final performance piece, In Search of the Miraculous, he had a choir sing sea shanties at his studio in Los Angeles while he set sail from Cape Cod, Massachusetts in a small sailing craft headed on a solo trip to Falmouth, Cornwall where he had planned for another choir to sing shanties upon his arrival. Due to his loss at sea, the piece was not completed.[4] The title “In Search of the Miraculous” was a reference to P.D. Ouspensky's mystical book In Search of the Miraculous.[10]


On 9 July 1975, Ader set off in a 13 ft (4.0 m) “Guppy 13” pocket cruiser named Ocean Wave, to make his single-handed west–east crossing of the North Atlantic. Having estimated that the voyage should take him no longer than two and a half months, Ader only managed to stay in touch for three weeks before radio contact broke off. His unmanned boat would not be found until ten months later, floating vertically 150 mi (240 km) west-southwest of the Irish coast.

Although the vessel had been spotted 60 mi (97 km) off the American East Coast and again near the Azores, its sole crewman was never heard from again and is presumed dead. It is unknown whether Ader was dragged to his death by a rogue wave, became disorientated and jumped overboard, or whether his intention in staging his last work had been to commit suicide.[4] The boat itself, recovered by the Spanish fishing vessel that found it, was taken to Coruña from where it was stolen some time between 18 May and 7 June 1976.[11]

Ader's mother wrote the poem From the Deep Waters of Sleep on 12 October 1975, after having what she described as a premonition of his death:

From the deep waters of sleep I wake up to consciousness.
In the distance I hear a train rumbling in the early morning.
It is going East and passes the border. Then it will stop.
I feel my heart beating too. It will go on beating for some time.
Then it will stop.
I wonder if the little heart that has beaten with mine, has stopped.
When he passed the border of birth, I laid him at my breast,
Rocked him in my arms.
He was very small then.
A white body of a man, rocked in the arms of the waves,
Is very small too.
What are we in the infinity of ocean and sky?
A small baby at the breast of eternity.
Have you heard of happiness
Springing from a deep well of sorrow?
Of love, springing from pain and despondency, agony and death?
Such is mine.

Exhibitions, reception and impact

In 1961, Ader exhibited his works at three galleries in Washington DC[13] and received a positive review in The Washington Post.[14] He became a minor sensation, being interviewed by The Voice of America and by the press in his native Holland.[15] In 1967, he gained his Master of Fine Arts with his project Implosion at Claremont Graduate School.[16]

During his lifetime, Ader had solo exhibitions at the Chouinard Art School, Los Angeles (1970), and the galleries Art & Project, Amsterdam (1972), Kabinett für Aktuelle Kunst, Bremerhaven, Germany (1972, 1974) and the Claire S. Copley Gallery,; accessed 8 April 2015.[17]

Ader held a two-person exhibition with Jack Goldstein, Allen Ruppersberg, John Baldessari and Marcel Broodthaers among others. His work was also included in the important international survey exhibitions Prospekt ’71: Projektion at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf (1971), and Sonsbeek ’71, Groningen, Holland. (1971).[18]

Since his disappearance, Ader's work has been exhibited in solo exhibitions at institutions worldwide including the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (1988), the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam (1993, 2006), Kunstverein München, Munich (1994, 2000), Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (1994), Kunstverein Braunschweig, Germany (2000), Portikus, Frankfurt (2003), and the Museo Tamayo Arte Contemporáneo, Mexico City (2004).

Ader's first retrospective in the United States took place in 1999 at the University of California, Irvine,[19] and travelled to two other venues; the Mary Porter Sesnon Art Gallery, University of California, Santa Cruz, and the Sweeney Art Gallery at the University of California, Riverside. It was curated by Brad Spence[20] with a catalogue including contributions by Thomas Crow, Jan Tumlir, and Spence. In 2006, Camden Arts Centre, London held a European retrospective of his works which travelled to the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam and the Kunsthalle, Basel, Switzerland.[18]

More recent solo exhibitions include In Search of the Miraculous: 30 Years Later, Centro Gallego de Arte Contemporáneo, Santiago de Compostela, Spain (2010), Suspended Between Laughter and Tears, Pitzer Art Galleries, Pitzer College, Claremont CA (2010), which travelled to the Museo de Arte Zapopan, Mexico, and the artist's first Italian retrospective Tra Due Mondi, MAMbo, Museo d'Arte Moderna di Bologna, Bologna, Italy (2013).

Erika Yeomans' conceptual documentary In Search of Bas Jan's Miraculous (1998, 40 minutes, mixed media) on Ader's life and art was featured on This American Life in 1996.[21]

Inspired by Ader, digital movie pioneer Rene Daalder proposed a new genre of art called “Gravity Art” in 2008. Gravity Art is based on the idea of gravity as a medium.[22] Ader is seen as the founder of this genre for the themes in his work of falling and letting go.[23]

See also


Specific references
  1. ^  
  2. ^ John Macdonald"Stage Fright", Sydney Morning Herald; 29 June 2013.
  3. ^ Rene Daalder. “Here is Always Somewhere Else: The Disappearance of Bas Jan Ader” (2007 documentary)
  4. ^ a b c d Richard Dorment (9 May 2006). "The artist who sailed to oblivion - Telegraph".  
  5. ^ Cindy Loehr.“Bas Jan Ader: Retrospective”, New Art Examiner, March 2000; accessed 8 April 2015.
  6. ^ Jennifer Doyle.“Hold it Against Me: Difficulty and Emotion in Contemporary Art”, Duke University Press, 12 March 2013.
  7. ^ Jörg Heiser. "All of a Sudden: Things that Matter in Contemporary Art", (Summer 2008).
  8. ^ Gwen Allen “Artists' Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art”, MIT Press at; accessed 8 April 2015.
  9. ^ Erik Bluhm, “Minimalism's Rubble: On William Leavitt's and Bas Jan Ader's Landslide (1969-70), ArtUS, November 2005, pp. 14-17.
  10. ^ Constance Lewallen and Phong Bui. “InConversation”,, 5 July 2013.
  11. ^ Koos Dalstra, Marion van Wijk. Bas Jan Ader: In Search of the Miraculous Discovery File 143/76. Veenman Publishers.  
  12. ^
  13. ^  
  14. ^ Wolfs ed. 2006 p. 14
  15. ^ Wolfs ed. 2006, p. 14
  16. ^ Wolfs ed. 2006, p. 159
  17. ^ Wolfs ed. 2006, p. 159
  18. ^ a b Wolfs ed. 2006, p. 160
  19. ^ Hainley, Bruce (March 1999). "Legend of the Fall". Artforum. XXXVII (7): 90. 
  20. ^ Sweeney Art Gallery Ader announcement
  21. ^ "From a Distance", This American Life, 27 December 1996
  22. ^ “Gravity Art”, Telic Arts Exchange, 26 April 2008.
  23. ^ Matthias Planitzer, “Bas Jan Ader and gravity on the art of letting go”, Castor & Pollux, 26 July 2009
Other sources
  • Jan Verwoert, Bas Jan Ader: In Search of the Miraculous, London: Afterall Books, 2006; ISBN 1-84638-002-2.
  • Maike Aden-Schraenen, In Search of Bas Jan Ader, Berlin: Logos Verlag, 2013. ISBN 978-3-8325-2295-7.
  • Alexander Dumbadze, Bas Jan Ader: Death Is Elsewhere, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2013. ISBN 978-0-226-03853-7.

Further reading

  • Dumbadze, Alexander (2013). Bas Jan Ader. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.  
  • Wei, Lilly (May 2014). "Vanishing Artist". Art in America (New York: Brant Publications): 57–60. 

External links

  • Official Bas Jan Ader website
  • I'm too sad to tell you on YouTube
  • Distinguished Alumni page from the Otis College of Art and Design
  • Nine artworks by Bas Jan Ader in the online collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, with images, and descriptions.
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