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Billy Klüver

1927, Monaco (Principality of Monaco) - 2004, Berkeley Heights (N.J., United States)

Billy Klüver was born in 1927 to Swedish and Norwegian parents. In 1951, he earned an electrical engineering degree from the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. During the 1950s, he was appointed president of the Stockholm University Film Society and was cofounder of the Swedish Alliance of Film Societies. During a stay in Paris (1952-1953), where he was a research assistant at Thompson-Houston, Klüver met Swiss artist Jean Tinguely through childhood friend Pontus Hultén (who was director of the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden). In 1953, Klüver immigrated to the United States, where he earned a PhD in electrical engineering at the University of California, Berkeley (Calif., United States), in 1957.

The following year, he joined the engineers in the Communication and Research Department at Bell Laboratories (Murray Hill, N.J., United States). It was also at this time that he made connections with a group of New York artists, a community whose members represented the avant-garde across all artistic disciplines (John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, Merce Cunningham). An increasingly important witness to the era, he participated in a number of “happenings,” including those of Claes Oldenburg. In 1960, Klüver designed the mechanical components and oversaw the functioning of Hommage à New York, Jean Tinguely’s self-destructing sculpture presented in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art (New York, N.Y., United States). In the early 1960s, Klüver curated two exhibitions at the Moderna Museet: Art in Motion (1961) and Four Americans: Alfred Leslie, Richard Stankiewicz, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg (1962).

A short time after the Hommage à New York presentation, Rauschenberg asked Klüver to develop the technological components of his sound sculpture Oracle (1962-1965). During this time, Klüver also built wireless neon tubes for the sculptures Field Painting (1963) and Zone (1966) by Jasper Johns. He then went on to modify miniature radio transmitters to allow choreographer Yvonne Rainer to amplify the sounds of her breathing in At My Body’s House (1964).

In 1965, together with Harold Hodges, an engineer and colleague at Bell Laboratories, he created the floating, helium-filled balloons used by Andy Warhol in his work Silver Clouds (1965-1966). For Variations V (1965) by John Cage, Klüver (along with Cecil Coker) created photoelectric cells that randomly triggered various sound and light events. In 1965, Klüver sought the expertise of engineers at Bell Laboratories (Murray Hill, N.J., United States) in order to produce a series of events that would bring together avant-garde theatre, dance and new technology. Initially planned as part of a festival in Stockholm, Klüver presented 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering at the 69th Regiment Armory (New York, N.Y., United States) from October 13 to 23, 1966. In November of the same year, he founded Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) with Fred Waldhauer, Robert Rauschenberg and Robert Whitman. The mandate of this non-profit organization, which was active primarily in the 1960s, ‘70s and ‘80s, was to create projects that would rally individuals from the arts, science and industry sectors around projects representing all three of these disciplines.

In 1968, Klüver left Bell Telephone Laboratories to focus exclusively on E.A.T., where he became CEO. For more information on E.A.T. projects conducted by Klüver, please refer to the Collection of Documents Published by Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.). From the early 1960s onwards, Klüver published numerous articles on his collaborations with artists and his views of technology as a catalyst for social change. He also wrote (with Julie Martin) Kiki’s Paris: Artists and Lovers, 1900 – 1930, a monograph on Alice Prin, or “Kiki de Montparnasse,” and A Day with Picasso, a book that recounts a day in the life of a number of Parisian artists, including Picasso and Max Jacob, told through a series of photographs taken by Jean Cocteau. In 2002, Klüver was made Chevalier de l’Ordre de la Légion d’honneur in France.

[Documents available in the collection about Billy Klüver...] 

[Documents available in the collection by Billy Klüver...] 

Vincent Bonin © 2006 FDL