[artinfo] RIP Billy Cluver

Andreas Broeckmann abroeck at transmediale.de
Fri Jan 16 08:53:07 CET 2004

January 13, 2004
Billy Kluver, 76, an Engineer Who Collaborated With Artists, Dies

Billy Kluver, a scientist and engineer whose collaborations with
artists helped give birth to the multimedia art forms of the 1960's,
died on Sunday at his home in Berkeley Heights, N.J. He was 76.
The cause was melanoma, said his wife, Julie Martin.
In 1966 Mr. Kluver teamed up with Robert Rauschenberg to solve the
knotty engineering problems posed by 10 artists (Mr. Rauschenberg
among them) who wanted to stage their art as spectacle. Mr. Kluver
invited some 30 scientists and engineers, most of them his colleagues
at Bell Labs, to realize dreamy ideas like snowflakes that fell
upward and tennis rackets that gave out sounds like huge temple bells.
The outcome was "Nine Evenings: Theater and Engineering," a
performance series that drew 14,000 visitors when it opened at the
69th Regiment Armory in Manhattan on Oct. 13, 1966, attracting
worldwide attention and inaugurating a fusion of art and technology
that prefigured the arrival of countless new art forms.
Experiments in Art and Technology — the organization devised in
September 1966 by Mr. Rauschenberg, Mr. Kluver, the artist Bob
Whitman and a Bell Labs engineer, Fred Waldhauer — quickly became an
instrument of ongoing collaborations. E.A.T., as the organization is
known, earned Mr. Kluver a Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres from
France and the Royal Order of Vasa from Sweden. Mr. Kluver continued
to match up artists and scientists as recently as last summer.
Johan Wilhelm Kluver was born in Monaco on Nov. 13, 1927, and grew up
in Salen, Sweden. He graduated with a degree in electrical
engineering from the Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm. A
physicist by training, he fell in love with film in the 1930's. He
kept a set of college notebooks listing in an obsessively neat hand
every film he saw between 1942 and 1950, plus the stars, studios,
directors and his comments and ratings of them. For his graduate
thesis in physics, he created a Walt Disney-style animated film of
electrons in streaming motion and attempted to sell it in Hollywood.
Film drew him to art. He served as president of the Stockholm
University Film Society and was a co-founder of the Swedish Alliance
of Film Societies, in the course of which he became friends with
Pontus Hulten, at that time the director of the Moderna Museet, the
modern art museum.
Mr. Hulten recommended Mr. Kluver to the artist Jean Tinguely, who
was looking for engineering help in designing his self-destroying
machine, which tore itself apart in a spray of smoke and fire in the
garden of the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1960. One of the
other contributors to Tinguely's machine was Mr. Rauschenberg, who
struck up a friendship with Mr. Kluver.
Mr. Kluver was a staff scientist at Bell Telephone Laboratories in
Murray Hill, N.J., from 1958 to 1968. He published numerous technical
and scientific papers and holds 10 patents. Around the time of
Tinguely's event, Mr. Kluver began making trips into Manhattan to go
to happenings and art openings, where he met Claes Oldenburg, Jim
Dine, John Cage, David Tudor, Robert Whitman, Andy Warhol and other
rising stars of the New York art scene.
Mr. Kluver had a role in developing iconic works like Mr.
Rauschenberg's sound sculpture "Oracle," Mr. Cage's electronic
performances "Variations V" and "Variations VII," and Warhol's
floating "Silver Clouds." The results of these and other
collaborations gave public shape to what had been a private movement,
a merging of art and technology that has not yet exhausted itself.
Besides his wife, he is survived by a daughter, Maja Kluver, of
Brooklyn; a son, Kristian Patrik Kluver, of Boulder, Colo.; and two
half-brothers, Bjorn Tarras-Wahlberg and Lorentz Lyttkens, and a
half-sister, Ase Lyttkens, all of Stockholm.
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company

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