Serge Stauffer – Art as Research. A Utopic Theory from 1976/77

During the 20th century we find many forms of artistic experiments and artists developing new ways of realizing works through research. But it seems that researching artists didn’t have an academic platform.

To establish such a platform was the aim of Serge Stauffer (1929–1989), Swiss artist and art educator. Still known for translating the writings of Marcel Duchamp and co-founding the F+F Schule für experimentelle Gestaltung Zürich, he is recently rediscovered as a groundbreaking pioneer of „Art as Research“. Stauffer was lecturing a fine art class at the Applied Arts School in Zurich (now Zurich Arts University), quitting with staff and students under protest in 1970 and co-founding the F+F to develop ways of socially engaged, processual and individually funded creative work.

His own work as an artist Stauffer described as lecturing at F+F, showing lecture performances, doing research and publishing its results. He was not only inspired by artists like Duchamp, John Cage, Surrealists, Concretes, or Fluxus, but also by his wife and feminist Doris Stauffer, the anti-psychiatrist ideas by R. D. Laing, or philosophs like Max Stirner or Charles Fourier.

He summarized most of his conclusions in „Art as Research“, a collection of papers Stauffer wrote for his students at F+F in 1976/77. It’s a theory beyond anti-art and resistance, as Stauffer was trying to find a way how researching artists could become equal colleagues in Universities. He unterstood it, following Kosuth, as a form of art anthropology, concerning the whole human being and his whole culture. It wasn’t possible for Stauffer to realize such a laboratory for artistic research.

Today, confronted with many options, researching artists are critized to lack ideals of resistance, relevance, or individual interest – in short, to follow to much the paths of institutionalisation and not of engagement. Most of these critiques could be refuted, and Stauffers contribution could still be of great help, as he formulated his ideas working at the F+F, a small laboratory with very limited means but great enthusiasm.

(The format is open, I would propose a presentation plus discussion.)


Michael Hiltbrunner, born 1975, lives in Zurich. He studied Cultural Anthropology at Zurich University and works as curator, lecturer, and researcher. He initiated the project „Serge Stauffer – Art as Research“ at the Institute for Contemporary Art Research at Zurich Arts University and realized an exhibition at Helmhaus Zürich, a publication, and a National Research project enabling access to Stauffers estate at the Swiss National Library in Berne.


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