Felipe Ehrenberg, the Conceptual artist who performed ephemeral actions to take art objects beyond the confines of the gallery space, sometimes by posting word scores halfway across the world using mail services, died of cancer in Morelos, Mexico. He was 73.
Ehrenberg’s formative work is associated with the Fluxus movement, which began in the 1960s and aimed to dissolve any boundaries between art and life, often by asking viewers to perform various actions using quotidian objects. Though not among the movement’s best-known adherents in the U.S., Ehrenberg was one of the most important exponents of its principles in Europe.
Having emigrated from Mexico to England in 1968, Ehrenberg helped introduce the British scene to some of the anti-art tactics that many were using around the world. With his wife, Martha Hellion, and the artist David Mayor, Ehrenberg cofounded the Beau Geste Press, which was recently the subject of a survey exhibition at the CAPC Musée d’Art Contemporain de Bordeaux in France. The press regularly published dryly funny books and journals created by artists, including the in-house magazine Schmuck, which featured contributions from Robert Filliou and Takehisa Kosugi. “Our Press is not a business, it’s a way of life,” Beau Geste’s slogan read.
When he returned to Mexico in 1974, Ehrenberg participated in the country’s los grupos movement. Combining activism and anti-art, Ehrenberg and the other los grupos artists created sociopolitical work that could address oppressive political regimes. This often meant resorting to making posters and holding actions in the streets, all in the name of art-making.
Ehrenberg was born in Tlacopac, Mexico, in 1943. Early in his career, he was mentored by the muralist José Chavéz Morado and the sculptor Mathias Goeritz. Having done editing stints early in his life, he would remain invested in the written word and even identified himself as a “neologist” (as opposed to an artist). He received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1975 and a museum retrospective at Mexico City’s Museo de Arte Moderno Mexico in 2008.
During the later part of his career, Ehrenberg further pursued the activist side of his practice by hosting symposiums and staging actions that reflected on the division between art and politics. For Ehrenberg, there could be no separation between the two, and his goal became to unite his viewers under that line of thinking. “Art is about linking people up,” he said in 2014, “no two ways about it.”