PRINT October 1998

Corinne Diserens

Getting to know Dieter Roth during the time he spent in Marseilles was an exceptional experience. A generous man completely invested in his work, his project for the MAC was sustained by daily life, in which nothing short of the memory of the second half of our century accumulates—because his project was truly a “life-work.” He left his native Germany as a child at the height of the war’s “monstrosity.” In keeping with the memory of his experiences, his oeuvre was shaped through an excess of production, where every tiny thing, down to the tiniest bit of decomposing material, is part of the photographic and film record of the artist’s most intimate life.

“Our kind of show ... might be called an essay in civilized entertainment,” he wrote in the exhibition catalogue. “I would call myself an inventor of machines that are meant to entertain (or inspire) feelings (or thoughts) that help to digest this Central European civilization wading in junk.”

Over fish soup at the Vallon des Auffes, he told of fabled encounters and collaborators—Daniel Filliou, Nam June Paik, LaMonte Young, Marcel Broodthaers, and Richard Hamilton were highlights. But what was extraordinary was his arrival almost daily at MAC; he would sit at his desk in the middle of the exhibition to write the catalogue—a sort of diary—and to make himself available, body and soul, to the viewing public. He often spent a lot of time with visitors, sharing their “small thoughts.” Humble but humorous, Roth bared himself in his work and succeeded in turning the museum into a vessel of communication.

It is Roth’s lucid gaze on the human condition that touches us most deeply in his work. His passing is a great loss in the field of thinkers of this century.

Corinne Diserens is director of the Musées de Marseille.