The musician and Fluxus artist Benjamin Patterson was born on 29 May 1934 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. After studying double bass and composition at the University of Michigan, from 1957 to 1960 he worked as a double bassist with Canadian orchestras based in Halifax and Ottawa as well as the Orchestra of the US 7th Army in Stuttgart, because at this time no orchestra in the United States would employ him due to the colour of his skin.
In 1960 he moved to Cologne, where he met Karlheinz Stockhausen and got to know other artists including John Cage, David Tudor and Nam June Paik at Mary Bauermeister’s studio. In this artistic environment he would go on to compose works such as “Duo for Voice and a String Instrument”, “Variations for Double-Bass”, “Septet from Lemons” and the famous “Paper Piece” that are now regarded as leading Fluxus works. Through Nam June Paik Patterson also came into contact with George Maciunas, with whom he jointly organised the Wiesbadener Festspiele Neuester Musik in 1962, also known as the First International Fluxus Festival. Along with Maciunas, Paik, Emmett Williams, George Brecht, Dick Higgins and Joe Jones, Patterson is regarded as one of the seven founders of the Fluxus movement.
Following a brief interlude in Paris, in 1963 Patterson moved back to the USA, settling in New York, in order, as he put it, to “lead a normal life.” In the decades that followed he was employed in a series of roles including General Manager of the Symphony of the New World Orchestra (1970–1972), Assistant Director of the Department of Cultural Affairs of New York City (1972–1974), Development Director of the Negro Ensemble Company (1982–1984) and National Director of the Pro Musica Foundation Inc. (1984–1986). From the 1980s onwards, Patterson made increasing international appearances as an artist, for example at the Festorum Fluxorum in Wiesbaden in 1982, the São Paulo Biennale in 1982 and 1983 and the Venice Biennale in 1990. In 1988, Patterson relocated to Wiesbaden, where he lived until his death on 25 June 2016. The Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston organised the first comprehensive Patterson retrospective in 2010, which was subsequently shown two years later at the Nassauische Kunstverein in Wiesbaden – its only presentation in Europe. In the year after his death, he was represented at documenta 14 in Athens and Kassel with “When Elephants Fight, It Is the Frogs That Suffer”, a work conceived in 2016 and realised posthumously.
As of January 2022