Jean Jacques Lebel
Jean Jacques Lebel
14 July 1960, late afternoon. Jean-Jacques Lebel, assisted by a companion and observed by some 50–60 people, casts a sculpture by Jean Tinguely into the Canale della Giudecca in Venice. It is ‘la Chose' de Tinguely and part of a larger Happening that began at the Palazzo Contarini-Corfù. The spectators have turned up in response to a little invitation card that read as follows:
Tour with Jean-Jacques Lebel
What Allan Kaprow would later describe as the first Happening on European soil was a ritual burial or memorial event for Nina Thoeren. Thoeren was a young woman from Venice who just a short time previously had been raped and murdered in Los Angeles where her father lived and where she had gone to study. In Venice she had been part of the young artists’ scene and had become a friend of Lebel, who was a regular visitor to La Serenissima.
Jean-Jacques Lebel was the initiator of Anti-Procès, an exhibition that he had organised jointly with Alain Jouffroy and Sergio Rusconi and that had opened at the Galleria del Canale near the Accademia on 18 June 1960. An exhibition of the same name had been shown at the Galerie Les Quatre Saisons in Paris several months earlier and a third was to follow in Milan in 1961. All three shows were staged in opposition to the imperialist policies of the European states, especially those of France, which at the time was waging war against the movement for independence in Algeria. The artists were protesting against the unspeakable violence being perpetrated by the French forces in North Africa and a manifesto against the state-sanctioned terror had already been published in Paris. By contrast, the Anti-Procès exhibition in Venice, which coincided with the Biennale, had its sights trained on the commodification of art and the banality to which that gave rise.
Tinguely, like all the artists involved, placed his work at the organisers’ disposal knowing very well that scarcely anything would be sold. His instructions for the (likely) eventuality that his sculpture would be among those that did not find a buyer were unambiguous: ‘Just throw it in the canal.’ So when Lebel heard the news of Nina Thoeren’s murder, he sought Tinguely’s approval for the work’s interment – L’enterrement de la Chose – and organised a prelude to the Happening in the form of readings at the Palazzo Contarini-Corfù. He himself read a text by the Marquis de Sade. The American Beat poet Alan Ansen read excerpts from Là-bas (The Damned) by Joris-Karl Huysmans, and then the sculpture, with a pall draped over it, was theatrically stabbed by Tinguely himself. Followed by a procession of ‘mourners’, four men carried the ‘slain’ work to a large gondola, which proceeded down the Canal Grande followed by still more gondolas to ferry the guests; the flotilla eventually formed a circle and the sculpture was slowly lowered into the waters of the lagoon.
That Happening, which was recorded in photographs, is at the centre of this exhibition of Jean-Jacques Lebel. The other works are drawn from his post-1960 oeuvre and include his Philosophes and Les Avatars de Vénus, a video installation that draws on the image of women in art and society to probe the archetypes anchored in the collective memory.
The exhibition is accompanied by a publication that documents the Happening L'enterrement de la Chose de Tinguely (July 14, 1960) and places it in the context of the manifestations on Anti-Procès (April 1960, Paris, June 1960 Venice, June 1961 Milan), as well as telling of an encounter between Lebel and Tinguely with Duchamp (winter 1961/1962).
Title: Jean-Jacques Lebel. Anti-Procès 1, 2, 3, L'enterrement de la chose de Tinguely (1960 in Venice) and an encounter in NYC with Teeny and Marcel (44 pages, wire-stitched, approx. 21 x 14 cm, English and German, price CHF 10.-)
Curator of the exhibition is Andres Pardey.