Daniel Spoerri



"Each painting that I paste is the reflection of an incredible number of actions and reactions that are intended, thoughtless or hazardous. This dirty glass, this old alarm clock, this rusty nail, why are they there? What provokes me, it is not the realism of the object, it is its doubtfulness." D.S.

Daniel Spoerri is a trap setter. He is someone who is fascinated by certain places and objects, by people and moments and therefore does not want to lose them. Art for him is: to capture a piece of reality, to keep it alive and to spare it from death. He collects reality. Not like the butterfly collector who preserves dead butterflies pierced and conserved in cases, but rather like the owner of a zoo where monkeys are left to roam around the spacious cages and be free. Thus, Daniel Spoerri invented the trap pictures where reality falls into his trap. His trap pictures are a new type of game for collages. With its tendency towards heterogeneous fragments of reality the collage is possibly the most important and revolutionary new technique created in the 20th century.

Max Ernst, the unrivalled master of collages once said: “it is not la colle, i.e the glue - it is not the glue that makes a collage”. Daniel Spoerri could revert the statement - and it is a basic principle of his to turn objects and ideas around, to turn them upside down and to see if art can develop - Spoerri could revert the words of Max Ernst and say: “it is the glue that creates the connection and coincidence is his studious assistant. And, in time, he became his own master.”

It is not incidental that Daniel Spoerri’s first trap pictures (Paris, circa 1960) wanted to capture every moment, making the gastronomical high-lights of our being, having enjoyed a shared meal with friends. At a certain time of evening, come twelve midnight at the break of the witching hour, suddenly - Halt! which means, rien ne va plus - no more - Stop! Everything to its place - plates, utensils, bowls, wine glasses, the corkscrew, the ashtray containing cigarette stubs, and possibly the half-empty cigarette packet with the matches - everything transfixed as was. And so, with all the remains of leftovers, the soup and wine stains, the table was then turned 90 degrees and fastened to the wall hence the trap was snapped and the art work was completed. It’s Daniel Spoerri’s belief that it is the 90 degree rotation of the objects which allows us to see the same objects not from above peering down, but rather having been put in the vertical and hung on the wall, giving us an eye-level perspective. Initially that may sound scurrilous like the whim of a jesting artist but actually it is an ancient process. Art has always conveyed, and not only since the Renaissance, though it was in greater demand then, letting familiar objects appear with a new perspectives, showing them in a new light, which meant seeing then with new eyes.

Daniel Spoerri provided yet one more aspect. Amongst the artists of our time, as I have already mentioned, he embodies a very rare, nearly forlorn characteristic: he is the master of story telling. Every object caught by his trap pictures contained a story. This here was the plate of his friend Tinguely and Arman ate from that one, and maybe Niki de Saint Phalle drank from this glass, all friends from the circle of the Nouveaux Réalistes, who came together in the 1950’s and the 1960’s in Paris.

At the point Daniel Spoerri was living in the Hôtel Carcassonne in the rue Mouffetard, and it is here that this idea for this book “Anecdotes to a topography of coincidence” came to life. At Arman's he saw a rubbish bin as art work. At home, in Carcassonne, he turned his own rubbish bin upside down and was astonished with all that came to light. The thought shot through his head to write down the stories of all of these objects.

However, he needed an outside push. A Parisian gallery was preparing an exhibition on Spoerri’s trap pictures and instead of invitations they decided to print a small brochure. Spoerri was requested to write a short text describing objects found within his reach at one particular moment in time, more within his immediate surroundings, objects being used on his table which served simultaneously as his kitchen, work and breakfast table. Instead of gluing objects as usual and attaching them to their surface for his trap pictures, he made a list of the 80 objects and told their stories.

It is Spoerri's conviction that “with the button of your trousers you can unravel the whole world”. For that to happen, coincidence has to enter the game. Coincidence took these 80 objects: egg cups and ashtrays, peppermills, wine bottles, match boxes, and glue pots, pins and candle ends, pens and wooden rulers, yarns and rubber bands, pulling knives and packages of tea, coffee tins and curtain rings, and brought them at one particular moment to his Parisian hotel room, on his table, and coincidence would decide which stories would be haphazardly remembered and then retold. The principle of coincidence signifies the principle of life for him. “Regimenting objects appears to take all life away, whereas disarray and coincidence frees them and excites memories.”

As a young boy, Daniel was keen in safe-guarding the things he valued most and so in pre-war Rumania, he dug a hole under a bush in the garden, covered it with a board and some soil in order to preserve some snow from the summer. Curiously enough - someone must have stolen the snow - because, come the spring time, it was gone. And so, Spoerri lived through the painful experience that "objects disappear". It became Spoerri’s life quest to hold onto things and lend bygones a permanence.

He began to support his friend-coincidence over the years. The artist began to react consciously and intentionally with discoveries-findings which he had preciously sought - objects, pictures, graphics - thereupon citing the opposite, confronting them with their very own contradiction and eventually lend them to the absurd. Allowing objects to be provoked to pictures or collages lets us justifiable speak of coincidence as calculated and manipulated.

In conclusion, we may say that Daniel Spoerri's artistic work, comprising a minimum of 40 years, has confronted us with the history of objects, making us conscious of its mere existence. Objects that confront us, which we make use of and which we can dispense with belong to various time zones, deriving from different levels of their existence. Here is the history of objects. In the beginning they are discovered by people for their own propose or invented anew, acknowledging them, adapting to them, uses them or manufactures them for suitable use or creates them with their very own tools. The second instance could be called the peak time of the objects - they have found their calling and are fully functional: the knife cuts, the comb tames hair, the jug hold wine or water. Then in the third segment similar to the middle-age for objects, scared by traces of intensive use- they are relegated to attic or to the flea market, if they are lucky, where they may rest in peace, having toiled all their life’s, unless however, they are trashed and thrown away. When stumbled upon in the attic or in the hobby room, acquired from a flea market or washed up and found on a lonely beach, objects might awake from the long sleep to a fourth phase of their existence, to a new life. At this point they begin to relate. Now they have a story to tell. Their shape alone stems from a different era. They survived and though they are practically of no more use, they are full of memories and suggest magical powers and if we are willing, they appear to us as a fetish or relics. Should they fall into the hands of an artist, who listens to their secret wish and amalgamated them with objects thereby providing them with a new home, their true reason of existence may be established in this final phase. The final phase in the life of objects is the culmination of Daniel Spoerri's life.

Wieland Schmied
In « Daniel Spoerri. Coincidence as Master », Editions Kerber Verlag, 2003.


Daniel Spoerri is a Swiss visual artist of Romanian origin, born in 1930 in Galati, Romania.

He began his career at the Bern Opera as a dancer, then as a stage director and set designer, before finally turning to an artistic career following his meeting with Tinguely.

Exhibitions (selection)


Der Zufall als Meister, Museum of art and history, Fribourg, Switzerland

Kleines Raritätenkabinett der Künstler im Giardino, Museum Kunsthaus Grenchen, Granges, Switzerland

Prillwitzer Idole, Foundation George Grard, Gijverinkhove, Belgium

- Fondazione Mudima, Milan, Italy


- Musée des Beaux Arts - Villa Steinbach, Revoltella Museum, Trieste, Italy

- Musée des Jacobins, Morlaix, France


- KunstHausWien, Vienna, Austria

- County Hall Gallery, London, England

Main artworks 

1977: genesis of « Musées sentimentaux »
- 1989: Le Musée Sentimental de Bâle, Gewerbemuseum, Basel, Switzerland
- 1981: Le Musée Sentimental de PrusseBerlin-Museum, Berlin, Germany
- 1979: Le Musée Sentimental de CologneKölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, Germany
1964: genesis of « Pièges à mot »
- 1964: Tondre un oeuf
1963: genesis of « Détrompes l'oeil »
- 1962: Attention : chien méchant
- 1961: La douche, MNAM, Paris, France
1959: genesis of « Tableaux pièges »
- 1972: Restaurant Spoerri, Bündner Kunstmuseum, Coire, Switzerland
- 1963: Restaurant de la Galerie J






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