As Mary Sue Anderson Ader drove away from the Cape Cod coast on July 9, 1975, she began crying.
She had just returned from towing her husband, artist Bas Jan Ader, out to sea to begin what he estimated would be a three-month voyage across the Atlantic Ocean. It was to be the second piece in his three-part conceptual art project titled “In Search of the Miraculous,” and, if he succeeded, he would make history in the smallest sailboat ever to complete the journey.
Anderson Ader believed in her husband—he was a skilled sailor and confident in his quest—but she says she wasn’t unrealistic. She knew there was a possibility she wouldn’t see him again. Today, over 40 years after Ader was declared lost at sea, presumed dead, Anderson Ader still tears up when talking about her late husband and his last work of art.
“In Search of the Miraculous” is featured in a new exhibition now open at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth that explores the work of three conceptual artists active in California in the 1960s and '70s.
Disappearing—California, c. 1970 showcases the work of Chris Burden, who disappeared into the woods for three days among other performance art pieces often involving extreme bodily acts, and Jack Goldstein, who explored the idea of disappearance throughout his career starting with his shocking student art piece in which he buried himself alive leaving only a single light above ground blinking red.
But it is Ader for whom disappearance became the unintentional heart of his incomplete last work and the void around which the tides of his legacy would swirl.
“In Search of the Miraculous” was conceived in three parts. The first is a series of black and white photographs showing Ader walked around L.A. and making his way to the ocean. It was accompanied by a video of his students singing sea shanties.
The second part was to be his three-month journey from the coast of Massachusetts to the coast of England in a 12.5-foot sailboat, while the final installment involved his attendance at an exhibition of his work at the Groninger Museum in the Netherlands.
“In the tradition of vision quests, this passage was his own epic poem where the artist serves as the central heroic figure,” Pilar Tompkins Rivas wrote in the catalog for a 2010 Bas Jan Ader exhibition at Pitzker College. “In this work, Ader pits himself against the elements, a proposition in which the reconciliation of existential truths, and queries of fate and faith likely played a major role.”
Anderson Ader said the boat was constructed to be virtually unsinkable. It was swathed in styrofoam and Ader planned the trip so that, even if the sail was somehow lost, the ocean currents would naturally carry him to the coast of the U.K., just in a bit more time than he had allotted.
“But the problem was that it was a very small boat in a very large ocean,” Anderson Ader said.
The boat was found 10 months after Ader set sail on the path that he had predicted it would naturally take. The artist was not on board.
Read the full article in The Daily Beast.