“Dieter Roth’s work takes place on so many levels that anyone who wants to attempt to describe it finds himself in a vortex of details.” 1 The exceptional versatility of the German-Swiss-Icelandic artist Dieter Roth (1930-1998) actually defies any sort of characterisation. The field in which Roth worked extended from painting, sculpture, drawing and graphic design to film, video, music, typography, design and architecture. However, on closer examination this list is incomplete, because even literature (prose, poetry, essays) was included in his means of expression. His “Zeitschrift für alles” (Newspaper for everyone) seems like megalomania, but here too the double layer of ironic and humour comments distorts the perspective on everything. At an almost frenetic tempo, Roth created an oeuvre that can sometimes be described as anarchic, subversive and recalcitrant, while he sometimes used semi-rational principles of organization and structure which he invented himself. He stirred up and fragmented the influence of sources such as Op Art, Pop Art and Fluxus with his idiosyncratic and radical modus operandi. Meanwhile, he changed his own name to Di(e)ter Rot. For him, social and artistic conventions were something to be thrown overboard. “He wouldn’t be capable of doing something ordinary,” remarked Karl Gerstner following a discussion with the artist.
The idea that a book is an expressive entity which can be used for anything and which can disseminate ideas has a central position in his work. “There are people who weep when they read my texts, at the same time as laughing. I cannot achieve this with images,” he said in an interview. He researched all the possibilities of the artist’s book with a huge range of techniques and materials, from the strictly conceptual to the book as an object.
The starting point of the exhibition in the Library is a selection of the 25-part collection that Roth published between 1969 and 1986 for the publisher Hansjörg Mayer as “Gesammelte Werke” (Collected Works). The exhibition also reveals some of the cross-connections with his multifaceted oeuvre in his activities as a book artist.
The exhibition was supported with a gift from the Friends of the Van Abbemuseum and Ab Hofstee.
1 B. Wien, Collected Interviews, p. 633.