Billy Klüver

Billy Kluver was born in Monaco in 1927, and grew up in Sweden (Stockholm). He came to the United States in 1954, where he first served as Assistant Professor of Electrical Engineering, at UC, Berkeley, and subsequently Member of Technical Staff at Bell Telephone Laboratories in Murray Hill.

Since the early 1960s, he collaborated with artists on works of art incorporating new technology, including Jean Tinguely, Jasper Johns, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage and Andy Warhol.


1953: Klüver meets Jean Tinguely in Paris.

17 March 1960: presentation of Tinguely's sculpture Homage to New York. "After a 27-minute performance, it collapsed and burst into flames, just as it was designed to do"

October 1966: 9 Evenings: Theatre and Engineering is shown at the 69th Regiment Armory (the same building that had housed the famous 1913 show that introduced modern European art to Americans). "The engineers provided...infrared television for Rauschenberg, direct access to sounds [from] all over New York for Cage (he wanted sounds, too, from outer space), a sound [environment] for [choreographer Steve] Paxton, snowflakes that went upward for [Oyvind] Fahlström, and a proportional control system for [David] Tudor, with which it was possible to modify lights and sounds by the movement of a flashlight over a photocell control panel."

Some engineers designed systems for use by more than one artist. Klüver and his colleagues contrived "a local-area FM transmitting system used to control lights, sound, and movement of objects at a distance." Engineer Fred Waldhauer devised a proportional control system for "moving sound around the speakers mounted in the armory and for varying the level of sound in each speaker."

By the time the events were over, upward of 10 000 people had attended. Most had mixed reactions. Said Klüver, "We had a high-powered public relations team and they got imaginative stories into the press. People came down there expecting to see miracles. But, of course, we had no miracles to perform. They thought they would see people floating in the air and everything. When they got there and saw it, they were bored to death. They had no idea that this was what contemporary art was. But these days, people come up to me on the street and say 'I was there,' and tell me how important '9 Evenings' was for them."

So much enthusiasm was generated among the artists and engineers working on the project, that Rauschenberg and Klüver immediately scheduled a meeting for artists in December 1966 to announce the formation of E.A.T., and find out how much interest there was in the New York art community in an organization that would foster collaborative efforts between artists and engineers.

1970: E.A.T. designs the Pepsi Pavillion at World Expo '70, Osaka.

Utopia: Q&A, public spaces linked by telex in New York, Ahmedabad, India, Tokyo, and Stockholm, where people could ask people in other countries questions about the future, 1971;

Children and Communication pilot project to use telephone, telex and fax equipment to have children in different parts of New York City communicate with each other, 1972;

large screen outdoor television display system for Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, 1976-1977.

"Engineers are not artists, and artists can't do their own engineering. Artists and engineers are separate individuals, and if they work together, something will come out of it that neither can expect. That's the quote I want to die with."

Billy Klüver died January 11, 2004.

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