Born in Leverkusen (Germany), 1932
Decease on 1998 in Berlin
Very active in: 60s, 70s, 80s

Representative galleries:
Rafael Vostell Art Trust

More links:

Video Art Works

TV Butterfly (1980)

Written & Compiled by Christophe Le Choismier

Duchamp said that the object is a work of art; I say that life itself is a work of art.
Wolf Vostell

His family, being of Jewish background, was forced to leave Germany to escape the Nazis and went to live in Slovakia. Vostell studied free painting and experimental typography at the Werkkunstschule Wuppertal schooll and at at the École National Supérieur des Beaux-Arts in Paris. In 1957 he attended the Düsseldorf Academy whilst at the same time studying the Talmud and iconographic investigations of the paintings of Hieronymous Bosch. He also studied the psychology of C. G. Jung and traveled to Spain. During this period, he became familiar with the composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. Co-founder of the Fluxus movement, starting in 1958 he organized his Décollage happenings inspired by the work of the dadaist Max Ernst.

In 1960 he married Dona Mercedes Guardado Olivenza. The first FLUXUS Festival was held at Wiesbaden, later going on to tour Copenhagen and Paris. From 1963 to 1965 he had solo exhibitions and organized Happenings in New York. In 1964 he participated in the first FLUXUS events and Happenings at the Galerie Block, Berlin. The largest and most complex Happening, lasting for six hours in twenty-four places, was held in Ulm. In 1965 he published the documentary volume Happening, Fluxus, Pop Art, Neuer Realismus with Jürgen Becker.

In 1966 he executed the Happening "Dogs and Chinese are not allowed in New York", which lasted 14 days, took place over all New York and used the entire subway network. He had a retrospective of his entire body of work at the Kölner Kunstverein. In 1968 he founded LABOR (Laboratory of Visual and Acoustic Events) with Kagel, Feussner and Heubach. That same year he completed the 'Electronic Décoll/age Happening Space' which was shown in Nuremberg and in a special exhibition at the Venice Biennale. In 1969 he founded the Kombinat 1 in Cologne and made his first car set in concrete.

In 1971 he moved to Berlin. The following year the Neuer Berliner Kunstverein commissioned him to make the film Désastres, in which a sleeping-car of a train was set in concrete. In 1974 he had his first large retrospective in the ARC 2 at the Musée d'Art Modernede la Ville de Paris, an expanded version of which was shown at the Nationalgalerie, Berlin, in 1975. The Museo Vostell Malpartida was founded in 1976. In 1978-79 he had three large retrospectives in Spain and his work was included in the Documenta "6", Kassel. In 1981 he created a mobile museum in Nordrhein-Westfalen in the form of a "FLUXUS train", consisting of containers with different settings; it stopped at 15 stations.


One of the pioneers of video art, he created a genuine Art of Life. Vostell was not a media artist in the strict sense, his relation to media was above all a political concern. He allways tried to bring together art and life which he viewed as inseparable.

Vostell notice the word "Décollage" used in describing a plane crash on the front cover of the Figaro, and he coined it to refer to the creative process used by him in his paintings composed of torn posters and photographs as well as he later referred to it in his Happenings where he uses fragments of reality to show its destructive aspect of life.

Vostell introduced new mediums to art like combining a slashed canvas with a flickering TV screen in "Transmigration". Another example is 'Sun in your head', one of his early film montages, where he filmed distorted images off a TV screen and later he composed the time sequence.

In his installations he used a wide range of media reverting to television and the other mass media, supplying some important and highly complex stimuli for the video art discourse.

Vostell demonstrated the new medium's potential as an aesthetic language long before videotape became accessible. Often considered provocative because of his public performances he defended his concept of Art without ever limiting himself in terms of technique. Vostell freed himself from the medium to reach human sensory perception.