Left: Bas Jan Ader, In Search of the Miraculous, 1975, documentation. Right: Cover of Rene Daalder's Here Is Always Somewhere Else: The Disappearance of Bas Jan Ader (2007).

THE DUTCH ARTIST Bas Jan Ader arrived in California in the late 1960s, created a small, potent body of lyric artworks, and then was lost at sea in 1975. He has received increasing attention in recent years, yet he remains a mystery. Rene Daalder’s documentary, Here Is Always Somewhere Else: The Disappearance of Bas Jan Ader (2007), is a useful if pedestrian addition to the spate of exhibitions and publications honoring the artist, and its flaws highlight why we may never come close to understanding Ader’s fateful decision to sail across the Atlantic in the Ocean Wave (a twelve-and-a-half-foot sailboat).

First and foremost, the romance of Ader’s disappearance has seduced Daalder into inserting himself more forcefully into the narrative than his association with Ader would seem to invite. (The already brief sixty-six-minute documentary would be half as long if it focused solely on its ostensible subject.) Second, most of the interviewees—Mary Sue Ader-Anderson, the artist’s widow; Ader’s classmates and students; younger artists influenced by his work—offer little insight into his practice or legacy; only artist Tacita Dean, who made a film about the amateur sailor Donald Crowhurst, who also died at sea, speaks eloquently about Ader’s importance to younger practitioners. The film likewise neglects to situate Ader fully within his artistic context, references to Chris Burden and “macho” American artists notwithstanding.

The documentary, created at the behest of Ader-Andersen, dutifully traces the artist’s early life in the Netherlands, his passage to the United States as the only crew member on a sailboat from Morocco, his student days and marriage (and, irritatingly, Daalder’s simultaneous B-movie work in Hollywood), the travails of his short career, and, of course, In Search of the Miraculous, the three-part artwork of which his solo voyage across the sea was one part. With only this biographical material as ballast, it seems inevitable that Daalder would posit Ader’s early life as the greatest influence on his art, and indeed a children’s book written by his mother and an impromptu bicycle journey to Jerusalem taken by his pastor father are, to the filmmaker, what animated Ader’s practice and ill-fated final adventure.

It is no doubt difficult to see past Ader’s untimely disappearance to the milieu in which he worked while alive, and the temptation to see Ader’s entire career as inexorably leading to In Search of the Miraculous must be great. But working with the full support of Ader-Andersen and the artist’s estate, one would expect that Daalder could have come up with more. He presents some previously unseen footage, and the DVD edition possesses the unequivocal benefit of including several of Ader’s film works on a second disc. As it stands, though, should another filmmaker ever gain equal access to the artist’s archives, colleagues, and artistic inheritors, much remains to be explored.

Here is Always Somewhere Else: The Disappearance of Bas Jan Ader is now available through Cult Epics. For more information, click here.

Brian Sholis