Sven Sachsalber, a rising artist whose sly performances, paintings, and conceptual works garnered significant attention in Europe, has died at 33. His death was reported on social media by Philipp Achammer, a politician based in Italy’s South Tyrol region, where Sachsalber was born.
In a statement, Achammer called Sachsalber “probably one of the most talented young South Tyrol artists.” Sachsalber’s cause of death was neither reported by Achammer nor by Tyrolian outlets that ran obituaries for the artist. STOL reported that he died in Vienna.
Sachsalber, who was born in 1987 in Silandro and based in New York, made headlines in 2014 for a performance at the Palais de Tokyo museum in Paris. For that work, he sought to literally find a needle hidden in a haystack by the museum’s curators, taking a common idiom at face value and enacting it as a work. In the end, Sachsalber was successful in locating the needle.
Over the course of a 48-hour period, Sachsalber sorted through the hay as mainstream outlets the world over, from Vice to the BBC, pondered whether what he was doing constituted art. Jean de Loisy, the museum’s president at the time, spoke out in its defense, saying that the work spoke to the human desire to complete arduous quests.
Other projects by Sachsalber evinced a similar dryly humorous sensibility. At New York’s White Columns in 2015, as part of the Performa biennial, Sachsalber undertook a project called Hands, for which he and his father attempted to complete a 13,200-piece puzzle of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. And for a show at ar/ge kunst gallery in Bolzano, Italy, Sachsalber produced 222 drawings based on Galerie Bruno Bischofberger ads that appeared on the back of Artforum. Other performances involved eating a poisonous mushroom and spending 24 hours in a room with a cow.
Among Sachsalber’s final shows was a 2019 solo outing held at New York’s Ramiken gallery. There, he exhibited a series of paintings that were based on ski-racing suits. He painted versions of the suits, then sewed them onto monochromes that appeared to engulf the clothing. Another body of suit paintings—these ones dotted with holes—was exhibited by Ramiken in 2020, and his work currently figures in a group show being put on by the gallery in Miami.
Rianne Groen, a gallerist who showed Sachsalber in the earliest stages of his career, told the New York Times in 2014, “He tries to take the little elements of everyday life in his artwork,” she said. “Some people think it’s stupid, and some people think it’s really nice.”
Correction, 12/16/20, 2:45 p.m.: The description of Sachsalber’s suit paintings has been clarified to better reflect the methods by which they were made.