Wolf Vostell

You Are Leaving the American Sector

Vostell You Are Leaving The American Sector Museum Folkwang Frei - © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016 © Museum Folkwang Essen - ARTOTHEK
  • Wolf Vostell
  • You Are Leaving the American Sector
  • 1964
  • spray paint on silkscreen print on photo canvas
  • 123 × 451.5 cm
  • Museum Folkwang, Essen - © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2016 © Museum Folkwang Essen - ARTOTHEK

Wolf Vostell was a co-founder of the Fluxus movement and a pioneer in installation, happenings, and environmental art. His film Sun in Your Head (1963) shows flickering television broadcasts, transformed through deconstruction and montage. Because there was no available moving-image technology for playback when this film was made, Vostell instructed cameraman Edo Jansen to record the television program with a 16mm camera, then he manipulated the images. 

By 1960, television had become the primary source of information for many viewers. Disassembling original television broadcasts was Vostell’s response to the fact that television broadcasts often confuse and twist facts and information rather than clarify them. 

A similar message is conveyed in Vostell’s painting You Are Leaving the American Sector (1964). Using existing footage, Vostell assembled various still images of a sign at the East-West Berlin border crossing, adding images of barbed wire, soldiers, street views from both sectors, and aggressively overpainted portraits of the three most influential statesmen of that time: Soviet Chairman Nikita Khrushchev, U.S. president John F. Kennedy, and German chancellor Konrad Adenauer. By spray-painting large areas, important details are “Dé-coll/aged”—Vostell’s term for the act of tearing down, smudging, interrupting, and creating anew.

Petronela Soltész

Biography of Wolf Vostell

  • Born 1932 in Leverkusen, Germany
  • Died 1998 in Berlin, Germany

Wolf Vostell is known as a co-founder of the Fluxus movement of the 1960s and ‘70s, as well as for his pioneering works in installation, Happenings and environmental art. His education included studies at the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts (National School of Fine Arts) in Paris (from 1955 to 1956) and the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf ((Dusseldorf Art Academy; in 1957). Starting in 1958, Vostell initiated Happenings across Europe and New York. That same year, he creating the first installation to incorporate a TV set (German View from the Black Room Cycle, 1958–63). Appropriating the term “Dé-coll/age” from the French language in 1954, Vostell re-introduced the Dadaist legacy of deconstructing consumerist items (like street posters) as a means of encouraging independent thinking. Vostell’s artistic achievements earned him early international recognition. He helped organize the Festum Fluxorum in Wiesbaden of 1962, among other events with the Fluxus group. Vostell was granted major retrospectives at the Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris (Modern Art Museum of the City of Paris) and the Neue Nationalgalerie (New National Gallery), Berlin, in 1974, and participated in Documenta, Kassel in 1977. In the 1980s, Vostell expanded his practice into environmental art, creating immersive installations for the FLUXUS-Train traveling across Germany. He founded the Museo Vostell, dedicated to his work, in 1976 in Malpartida de Cáceres, Spain.