Dieter Roth

Date/place of birth

April 21, 1930, Hannover

Day/place of death

June 5, 1998, Basel, Switzerland

Dieter Roth - Literaturwurst
Dieter Roth - Literaturwurst

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Dieter Roth biography

Dieter Roth didn’t hold much with beauty, especially lasting beauty; the Swiss object artist valued the gradual decay, worked with maggots, moths and moulds, relied on everything that normally provoked the service of cleaners and exterminators.

Dieter Roth – Training as commercial artist, step to independence

Diether Roth was born Karl-Dietrich Roth on 21 April 1930 in Hannover. His father was Swiss and his mother German. Roth always used his name casually, sometimes signing his works “Diter Rot”, then using a spontaneously created fantasy pseudonym, or simply Dieter Roth – the name with which he would become known. In 1943 he fled – initially without his parents – out of national socialist Germany to Zurich to live with foster parents. Here he garnered his first artistic experiences with etchings, oil paintings and poetry. After the Second World War Roth was apprenticed to the graphic artist Friedrich Wüthrich in Bern. The difficult post-wart economy made it impossible for Roth to find a position as a commercial artist and so he ventured into self-employment. This led him to Copenhagen in 1955 where he designed textiles, then to Iceland, America and at last back to Germany. Iceland, Germany and Switzerland created a triangle of reference points between which the artist switched throughout his life. He even grounded the publishing company “Forlag Editions” with the Icelandic poet Einar Bragi, under which Roth published a few of his compositions.

Diether Roth’s organic art celebrated the aesthetic of decay

In the 1960s, Roth participated in various Happenings for which he created objects out of organic materials, the natural decay of which was part of the art performance. He cast his works in chocolate and allowed them to decompose. He shaped pictures out of layers of mould and seasonings, worked with Daniel Spoerri and André Thomkins on Eat-Art – and was successful. In 1967 he met the feminist artist Dorothy Iannone who would become his partner and with whom he had a fruitful artistic relationship. In New York, Dieter Roth worked with the Fluxus movement, founded by George Maciunas, but was unable to relate to their enthusiasm for asceticism. His artworks composed of foodstuffs became infested with maggots and beetles and he affectionately called these his “colleagues”; he rejected any methods to conserve or restore his works – the death of the artwork was a part of his art. As a result, at one point his neighbours filed lawsuits against the unpleasant smells and had the artist’s studio emptied. Despite these quarrels however, Dieter Roth took several teaching assignments and participated twice in documenta in Kassel.

Relentlessly open, eaten away by ambition, role models as bogeymen

The relentless openness that Dieter Roth repeatedly displayed in interviews is remarkable. In interviews lasting several hours, he spoke candidly about how he was virtually eaten away by ambition and felt that his role models were enemies that had to be overcome. In contrast to many other celebrities, Roth greatly valued the fact that his interviews, often conducted over several days and many hours, were published in full and unembellished; the mistakes, pauses and small mishaps that are usually eradicated during editing embodied an indispensable part of the whole picture he wanted to draw of himself and his art. At the same time, the artist was writing with great restlessness in several diaries simultaneously in which he also recorded many spontaneous ideas. Yet he considered the words to be “inferior pictures” which often enough obscured the view of his actual art. This reservation did not stop him however from publishing his own books of collected lyrics and prose which were even set to music after his death by interpreters such as Andreas Dorau, Mouse on Mars or Stereo Total. Dieter Roth died on 5 June 1998 in Basel.

© Kunsthaus Lempertz

Dieter Roth Prices

Dieter RothLiteraturwurst€51.240
Dieter RothGrosser Gartenzwerg (Tall garden gnome)€48.000
Dieter RothLiteraturwurst (literature sausage)€36.000
Dieter RothPackschiff€34.800
Dieter RothEinanderwürgende Unschuldsengel und weinende Schweine€30.500
Dieter RothSehr kleiner Gartenzwerg (Very little garden gnome)€30.000

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