Five Things You Need to Know About Contemporary Artist Roman Signer

A major figure in international contemporary art since the 1970s, Roman Signer experiments with everyday objects like chairs, canoes, tables, tents or remote-controlled helicopters and relates them to earth, wind, gunpowder, fire, and water in unexpected ways. What is true for chemistry and physics is also true for Signer’s practice: that from the combination of basic elements something completely new can emerge and that every action has a reaction. All of his sculptures and films are thoughtfully conceived works of art, but they are also radical experiments the outcome of which we (and the artist) can only guess at before they have come to an end. Rarely seen in the United States, Roman Signer is thought by many to be Switzerland’s most important artist and undoubtedly one of the major figures in international contemporary art since the early 1970s.

On Saturday, July 26, Signer will present a selection of his films, with commentary, at his only public appearance in the United States at the Cleveland Museum of Art. He will give insight into his fascinating, humorous, and thoughtful body of work through a selection of videos documenting his sometimes spectacular, sometimes stunning simple actions and sculpture. The event is FREE with reservation.

View the above video for a sample of his work, and read on for our five things you need to know about artist Roman Signer!

To name just a few things that Roman Signer has done while creating art,  he has: sent an entire chalet down a hill on four snowboards; had a three-wheeled delivery car loaded with water barrels roll down a 36 foot-high ramp and up the other side (at the apex, the vehicle overturned and crashed to the ground); and for the 8th edition of Documenta in Kassel, one of the most prestigious exhibitions in the world, he blew up thousands of sheets of paper, forming a wall of white “rain” as the conclusion to the exhibition. 

Some have called Signer’s artworks ‘performances’. But the great majority of his works happen without spectators and the artist only documents them in photographs, film, or video. This quality of his art—as some sort of a happening without an audience—often leaves Signer in the role the guinea pig of his own experiments. He refers to such works as “time sculptures.” 

Although Signer is considered to be the most important Swiss artists, is highly recognized in Europe, and is one of the most influential sculptors in the world, he is little known in the United States. 

Signer was born in a small mountain village in the Canton Appenzell, Switzerland. Before studying art in Zurich, Lucerne, and Warsaw, he worked as an architect’s draftsman, a radio engineer apprentice, and for a short time in a pressure cooker factory. 

Signer once answered the question: “Do you think a lot about the meaning or background of your works?” with: “No. I read a lot, about avalanches, dams, volcanic eruptions, fire fighters, architecture, weather, but I draw my inspiration not from books or from other art works. I just want to ask the basic questions again and again. I am neither a craftsman nor an intellectual. Something in between – a game-player. I’m just here. I’m still here. I upset some, others I delight.” 

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