At the core of Dan Basen’s work is the act of stripping objects from their original intended use and highlighting their pure “objectness.” Basen’s focus is similar to that of the French Nouveau Réalisme artist, Arman, who also created vitrines of objects, achieving domination and order over the inanimate object to reflect on its materialness. Basen's work associates heavily with the ready-made tradition exemplified by his reordering of common manufactured items into collaged or constructed works. As if trying to secure meaning or authority over a world becoming ever more complex and uncontrollable, Basen formalized common materials into rectangular grids or assembled them neatly in boxes. Using everyday objects such as matches, candy wrappers, soda bottles, and art supplies, Basen compelled the viewer to scrutinize objects in their own environment. Defeated by the battle he tried to win in his art, Basen tragically committed suicide in 1970.
Dan Basen was born in 1939 in Poughkeepsie, New York. The artist received his BS in Art Education from State University of New York at New Paltz in 1961, and an MFA from the Rinehart School of Sculpture at the Maryland Institute College of Art in 1963. He briefly continued his studies at the Brooklyn Museum of Art School in 1963-64. During his brief career, Basen received numerous accolades, including an annual fellowship at the Rinehart School of Sculpture (1961-63), a Hamburger Award for Sculpture from the Baltimore Museum of Art (1962), a Peabody Fellowship of the Peabody Institute of the City of Baltimore (1962), and a Museum Purchase Prize from the Baltimore Museum of Art (1963). Basen’s work has been featured in numerous museum exhibitions, including shows at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum Downtown, both of which own the artist’s work, as well as the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, the Museum of the Rhode Island School of Design and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Basen had solo exhibitions at Allan Stone Gallery, and was featured in group exhibitions at Betty Parsons Gallery, Byron Gallery, and Matthew Marks Gallery.