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Bas Jan Ader

Bas Jan Ader

Bas Jan Ader (born April 19 1942 in Winschoten, the Netherlands, lost at sea in 1975 between Cape Cod, Massachusetts and Ireland) was a Dutch conceptual artist, performance artist, photographer and filmmaker. He lived in Los Angeles for the last 10 years of his life. Ader's work was in many instances presented as photographs and film of his performances. He also made performative installations, including Please Don't Leave Me (1969). His work began to experience a surge in popularity in the early 1990s.


During adolescence Ader took art classes at the Rietveld Academy in the Netherlands, 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 School in 1967. After graduating, Ader taught at various institutions, including Mount San Antonio College, Immaculate Heart College, and the University of California, Irvine.


Ader was lost at sea while attempting a single-handed west-east crossing of the Atlantic in a 13ft pocket cruiser, a modified Guppy 13 named "Ocean Wave". The passage was part of an art performance titled "In Search of the Miraculous". Radio contact broke off three weeks into the voyage, and Ader was presumed lost at sea. The boat was found after 10 months, floating partially submerged 150 miles West-Southwest of the coast of Ireland. His body was never found. The boat, after being recovered by the Spanish fishing vessel that found it, was taken to Coruña. The boat was later stolen.

Famous works

Ader's most popular work is his 1970 short film piece entitled "I'm too sad to tell you" that consists of the artist crying in front of a camera after a brief title. While much has been said about the aesthetic and ironical framework of "I'm too sad to tell you", i.e. the emotive or theatrical content, the slapstick comedy present in much of his work also plays an important role. Within this duality Ader thus creates in much of his work and performance a contrived theatricality that creates comedic space in its meta-awareness. This places not only content and aesthetics to the fore, but the idea of reception as well. The interests and concerns in Ader's oeuvre locate him in similar art historical tropes of conceptual and performance artists of the 1970s, such as Chris Burden and Bruce Nauman. Like many conceptual art works of the 1970s, his works were recorded in descriptive notes and statements destined to have flexible and repeated incarnations, forever unfolding with the perception of history itself.

Many myths have spread out about Ader's disappearance at sea, leading to speculations about supposedly lost works resurfacing.


The work of Bas Jan Ader, while long considered influential in the art community, is now starting to gain an ever-increasing public interest. There have been a number of recent exhibitions of his work, including a European traveling retrospective in 2006-2007 with stops at the Camden Art Center, London, the Boijmans van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam, and the Kunshalle Basel. A catalogue documenting all of Ader's artworks has been published on the occasion of the retrospective.

The 2006 documentary film Here is Always Somewhere Else has further increased Ader's recognition in the contemporary art world. As seen through the eyes of fellow Dutch emigrant filmmaker Rene Daalder, the film chronicles the life and work of Bas Jan Ader, and becomes a sweeping overview of contemporary art films as well as an epic saga of the transformative powers of the ocean.

Additionally, Erika Yeomans' conceptual documentary In Search of Bas Jan's Miraculous (1998, 40 mins., mixed media) on the life and art of Bas Jan continues to screen in various festivals and galleries, most recently as part of Dutch Kultprom Russian Tour of Bas Jan's videos. The project was also featured on This American Life in 1996.


Specific referencesOther sources

  • Jan Verwoert, Bas Jan Ader: In Search of the Miraculous, London: Afterall Books, 2006. ISBN 1-84638-002-2.

External links

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