A Dallas gallery is offering a rare chance to see the art of Bas Jan Ader, who disappeared in 1975.

To disappear. It brings to mind Hamlet’s famous line: “To sleep, perhaps to dream.”

Such ambiguity befits the life, work and untimely end of Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader, who disappeared in 1975 at the age of 33 after leaving the East Coast alone in a small sailboat for Europe—the journey itself a performance that never reaches its end.

We have a rare chance to see Ader’s work in the “Unspoken Thoughts…” exhibition at the Meliksetian Briggs Gallery in Dallas. Curated by artist David Quadrini, the show explores sensitively selected works from the gallery, which recently relocated from Los Angeles and is the sole representative of Ader’s estate.

In the 1960s, Ader moved from his native Netherlands to sunny Los Angeles. There he immersed himself in the heady world of conceptual art, earning a Master of Fine Arts and studying philosophy. During his short career he taught at various universities and produced films, installations and performances.

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In Bas Jan Ader’s 1971 short I’m Too Sad to Tell You, the artist’s face is grimacing in grief.(Bass Jan Ader)

He once rode his bike into a canal to pursue his obsession with gravity. For Quadrini, Ader’s ethos is pure poetry bound by the laws of physics.

This is not the first time Ader’s work has been shown in North Texas. A 2019 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth placed it in the context of California’s conceptual art movement in the early 1970s.

Anna Meliksetian, who co-owns Meliksetian Briggs Gallery with her husband, says there is steady demand for Ader’s work. “We get loan requests once a week,” she says.

Ader’s lyrical style distinguishes him in the conceptualist canon. His work has been featured in the Venice Biennale and he is a favorite of artists as stylistically different from him as the contemporary artist Kehinde Wiley, who is perhaps best known for his 2018 portrait of former President Barack Obama. Yet Ader remains rather obscure .

Solitary figures and solitary landscapes feature prominently in the show.

in Untitled (Swedish Autumn) (1970), two color photographs form a sequence. Ader standing on edge of tree in one frame; in the next he lies prostrate among the trees where he stood. Our mind performs a simple action (falling), but the narrative evokes something deeper in Ader’s biography: His father, a minister in the Dutch Reformed Church, was executed by the Nazis in forests like these for offering safe harbor to Jews.

Ader’s body follows other stories as well. in I’m too sad to tell you (1971), a short film, his face is shown against a white background, grimacing in grief. Storms of grief pass over his face like clouds in the sky. In three minutes one landscape (psychological) is imprinted on another (physical).

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Ader seems eager to give us clues. On the picture Untitled (The Elements) (1971), the rail-thin artist stands on a windswept shore, holding a handwritten sign reading “FIRE,” completing the elemental quartet of earth, air, water, and fire.

With the show’s eponymous installation, Unspoken thoughts, then forgotten (1973), Ader’s clues went undiscovered for decades. Meliksetian realized by looking at Ader’s original handwritten instructions that every show since the work’s debut in Nova Scotia had repeated a misplacement of objects.

Bas Jan Ader's 1973 installation
Bas Jan Ader’s 1973 installation Thoughts Unspoken, Then Forgotten is on display as the artist intended for the first time.(Nan Coulter / Special Contributor)

This show shows the installation the way the artist first envisioned it, Meliksetyan says.

In the new layout, a tripod holds a lamp that illuminates the title written in oil on the wall. Flowers in a vase develop and wilt during the show. In the end, the flowers are thrown away, the text is erased. But the lamp remains, poignantly illuminating what is gone.

The exhibition is complemented by unusual works, including a never-before-exhibited landscape painting and a self-portrait – both recently discovered by Ader’s widow, Mary Sue Andersen-Ader – as well as works on paper from when Ader took printmaking lessons with the artist. nun and social activist Corita Kent.

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Ader’s contribution to the history of art is “poetry and emotion, where else [artists] there was a dry conceptualism,” says Meliksetyan. Rarely shown during his lifetime, Ader’s works became well known in artistic circles.

“We have a show and all these kids show up who never come to the gallery,” Meliksetyan says of previous exhibitions. Many of them, she adds, are students at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Ultimately, Ader struggles with universal ideas, teetering on the edge of the ambiguous and the ever-changing. His work deserves to be seen for its own sake, not just for its mysterious ending.


The exhibition “Thoughts Unsaid …,” featuring works by Dutch artist Bas Jan Ader, runs through Feb. 25 at Meliksetian Briggs Gallery, 150 Manufacturing St., Suite 214. meliksetianbriggs.com.

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