“Roth Time. A Dieter Roth Retrospective” is the first major overview showing work from five decades of the late artist (born 1930 Hannover, 1998 Basel): Drawings, graphic designs, books, paintings, objects, installations, film and video works.
As a visual artist and book maker, musician and filmmaker, poet and author, communicator and mediator, Dieter Roth was one of the few universal artists of the second half of the 20th century. His consistent identification of art with life, at times accomplished with ease, at times with a struggle, leaves its mark on his work as a whole. The basic instinct behind his creativity was his understanding of time as the quintessence and expression of chance, constant change and transience. In his art, Dieter Roth addressed the processes of change and transience. But he did not simply endure and depict these processes, he explored them and intervened in them.
The chaotic, inspired, all-embracing variety of Roth’s work is communicated to the viewer. The exhibition mirrors both a single life and the entire epoch.
The retrospective starts with his earliest drawings and graphic designs from the second half of the 1940s. The climax of this early period is the Solothurner Wandbild (Solothurn Mural) dating from 1952, a competition piece of an unusual size for Roth, who had until then been working on a small scale.
The following years saw the creation of works on paper, paintings and books which showed how he addressed the issue of concrete art, then a subject of much debate in Switzerland. During this period the essential characteristics of his work as a whole became apparent. One characteristics is the pleasure he took in experimentation and the intensity with which he realized an artistic idea, exploring it in the most varied of media and developing it so far that the original starting point was hardly recognizable in the final result. A second characteristics is the importance he attached to language and books, so early in his career.
The 1960s saw a total liberation from formal conventions and a spectacular expansion into the realm of low-quality, transitory materials. It is not the provocative nature of the materials that is the decisive factor here, but rather the creation of a new vocabulary for the discourse on being and transience, explosion and decomposition, exultation and despair. This opened up a unique world of language and image and, with the transformation of the new materials, Roth created an entirely new form for the representation of landscape and nature.
In the 1970s Dieter Roth started systematically colleting the most diverse materials, sketches, or documentary pictures of all the houses of the town, over many years. He combined these into monumental works which convey not only the transience of time, but also eras that had been shaped by individual or collective endeavour. At this time Roth also produced an enormous quantity of graphic work and drawings, which made him a much-sought-after artist.
In his final creative phase Roth brought together the approaches he had developed to self-portrait and transience in a series of spectacular climaxes. The monumental installations and the introspective small-scale works which he presented in collaboration with family members and friends in now legendary exhibitions (Holderbank 1992/93, Vienna 1995 and Marseilles 1997) represent the pinnacle of his late period.