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Maja Oeri

I was still a teenager when Dieter Roth first showed up in my life about thirty years ago. He came one night to my parents’ house in Basel with a group of actors after a premiere. Already pretty tanked, he sat down at the piano and played a strange, singular kind of music with a dull melancholy refrain. “This is Dieter Roth!” the gallerist Felix Handschin whispered to me. “He’s the greatest, he’s even more important than Beuys, you’ll see.”

I met him properly in 1977 when I was working as an assistant at Handschin’s gallery in Basel. Handschin and Roth—both in financial straits—had, so they thought, discovered the way to make quick money. In the gallery, Roth drew hundreds of “Self-Portraits with Speech Bubble” on cheap, A4 paper. “Cash and Carry” was the name of the operation, but even at 300 Swiss francs a sheet—about $129 in 1977 dollars—it represented too high a risk for the careful

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