Model of the House for Watching the Sunset in the Aladab Oasis, 2005. Aluminum, 371.5 x 481 x 305 cm. Work as shown at the Kunsthalle Bielefeld, Germany. Photo: Nic Tenwiggenhorn.

Not Vital: Being and Building

Not Vital was born in 1948 in Lower Engadine, a region in the Swiss canton of Graubünden. Twenty years later he moved to Paris to study art. He then studied sculpture at the Centre Universitaire Experimental de Vincennes. After leaving university, he traveled through the Mediterranean countries, Canada, and the U.S. Upon his return to Europe he settled in Rome, where for a time he ran a small circus together with several friends. It was during this time that he met Robert Wilson and Alighiero Boetti. In 1974 he went to New York, where he lived with Willem de Kooning on Long Island and got to know Julian Schnabel and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Vital’s quest for the “right” sculpture lasted about 15 years. In 1980 he worked with plaster of Paris for the first time, and he made his first bronze sculpture in 1983. Many of his sculptures address archaic relationships between man and nature, which is why his early works are also referred to as “neo-prehistoric.” In 1988 he tried in vain to aid a two-year-old Nepalese child with severe burns—in Nepal people cook on open fires in their homes. This led to the idea of building a hospital in Nepal for burn victims. Vital financed the project by creating and selling bronze sculptures modeled on cowpats, which in Europe were once used for heating. This alliance between artistic and humanitarian commitment also characterizes his recent ”Agadez Project.”