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Tout est art: French artist Ben dies aged 88, just hours after wife's death

Ben Vautier at his workshop in Nice.
Ben Vautier at his workshop in Nice. Copyright Gil Zetbase / CC licence
Copyright Gil Zetbase / CC licence
By Euronews
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French artist Ben Vautier, known simply under the artistic moniker Ben, died by suicide at his home in Nice just hours after the death of his wife, his family said on Wednesday.

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Famed for his trademark painted slogans, the famous artist died at the age of 88. His wife, Annie, died at the age of 80 on Wednesday (5 June), having suffered a stroke on Monday.

“Unwilling and unable to live without her, Ben killed himself a few hours later at their home,” the couple’s children, Eva and Francois, said in a statement.

"Art is everywhere".
"Art is everywhere".Galerie Eva Vautier / Facebook

The Nice prosecutor’s office said Vautier was found with a gunshot wound and that they would open an investigation into his death.

Born to a French family in Naples in 1935, Vautier moved to Nice aged 14 and spent the rest of his life there. 

The artist, who was linked to influential 1960s and 70s avant garde movements such as Fluxus, Nouveau Réalisme, and Mail Art, was a proponent of blurring the boundary between art and the everyday, perhaps best encapsulated in his proclamation that “everything is art” (“tout est art”) – a phrase incorporated into many of his works.

Vautier's "The `Wall of Words" was inaugurated in 1995 in Blois, France
Vautier's "The `Wall of Words" was inaugurated in 1995 in Blois, FranceJolivet Daniel/ CC licence

His distinctive cursive script, laced with both provocative irony and humour (with questions such as "What is the use of art?" and "What are you doing here?" among his best-known slogans), found its way onto everyday objects transformed into art works, which Vautier would claim as his creation.

The artist’s proclivity to “sign everything that has not been signed”, extended even to the works of other artists and the bodies of passersby on the Promenade des Anglais in Nice. Vautier’s work was replicated widely, with his slogans becoming a staple on socks, tote bags, pencil cases and notebooks.

"On our children's pencil cases, on so many everyday objects and even in our imaginations, Ben had left his mark, made of freedom and poetry, of apparent lightness and overwhelming depth," French President Emmanuel Macron said in a statement.

"The world of culture has lost a legend," Culture Minister Rachida Dati commented, dubbing Vautier a "goldsmith of language".

Vautier's record store in Nice in 1958. The facade was purchased and displayed at the Pompidou Centre.
Vautier's record store in Nice in 1958. The facade was purchased and displayed at the Pompidou Centre.Archives Ben Vautier / CC licence

Beyond his signature text-based art, Vautier was known for his thought-provoking performances: standing in the window of a gallery and shouting until losing his voice, swimming across the Port of Nice, and organising plays that never happened.

His works can be found in the collections of some of the world’s most prominent museums, including MoMA, the Centre Pompidou and the Stedelijk Museum.

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