Hans Breder, distinguished artist and educator, dies aged 81

Hans Breder — photo courtesy of Breder’s family and friends

Hans Breder, pioneering media artist and educator, died unexpectedly on Sunday in Iowa City. He was 81.

Born in Herford, Germany, on Oct. 20, 1935, he studied painting under Willem Grimm at the University of Fine Arts in Hamburg. Breder received the Studienstiftung des deutschen Volkes,(German Academic Scholarship) to study art in New York in 1964. There he became an assistant to kinetic sculptor George Rickey who included him in a 1968 book on constructivism and wrote an essay for Breder’s first New York show of minimalist sculptures at Richard Feigen Gallery in 1967, “There is only one Breder. He is young but he is unmistakable. He is sensitive and at the same time relentless. The concept is fixed, the design is still open to manoeuvre. Breder has a traditional European background but his classical, even conservative, work is precisely of our time.”

He accepted a teaching job at the University of Iowa and in 1968 founded the Intermedia and Video Art Program and taught there until 2000.

Breder quickly implemented an influential visiting artist program, bringing Vito Acconci, Nam June Paik, Karen Finley, Carolee Schneemann, Mary Beth Edelson, Fluxus artist Dick Higgins, George Kuchar, Dennis Oppenheim and many others to Iowa City. In 1973, he started teaching summer classes in Oaxaca, Mexico, and later brought student groups from Iowa to Europe.

“The program,” Breder said, “conceived of intermedia not as an interdisciplinary fusing of different fields into one, but as a constant collision of concepts and disciplines.”

In a 2007 essay about Breder, Smithsonian curator John Hanhardt wrote, “It is important to remember that the Intermedia Program was not art about art. It was art as ideas, art dedicated to envisioning aesthetics of renewal.”

Breder’s pedagogical style was recognized in a major 2013 exhibition and book titled, Anti-Academy, by the John Hansard Gallery in Southhampton, UK. Only three universities were chosen, from Japan, Great Britain and Iowa City for their early practice in experimental art.

He worked with a wide range of collaborators, from a range of fields. Breder’s work also explored liminality, the conceptual threshold of rites of passage that was first introduced by Arnold van Gennep and later expanded by Victor Turner.

Recent art exhibits include a traveling show of Breder’s photographs from 1969-73 at Danziger Galleries in New York, Paris Photo 2015 and Photo London 2016. He presented a video installation, “Mindscape/The Subtle Body,” at Solivagant Gallery in New York City in 2015.

His work has been collected around the world including by the J. Paul Getty Museum (Los Angeles); Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden (Washington, D.C.); Smithsonian American Art Museum (D.C.); The Museum of Modern Art (New York); The Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), and the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis). Three of his videos were shown at the Whitney Biennial Exhibitions of 1987, ’89 and ’91 in New York.

He retired as F. Wendell Miller Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Art in 2000 and received an honorary doctorate from the Technische Universität Dortmund in 2007.

In 2015, art critic Donald Kuspit summarized the artist’s 50-year career. Beyond the early and abiding influence of Malevich, wrote Kuspit, “Mondrian and Kandinsky are Breder’s ancestors: his work has the same transcendentalist aspiration as theirs. Indeed, it is the grand climax of the tradition of transcendental abstraction.”

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When a devastating fire destroyed his beloved Victorian home, including studio, workshop and attic gallery, on his 80th birthday, Breder reconfigured much of his damaged work; building on past forms to complete several new projects.

Breder’s Intermedia Archive is installed permanently at the Museum Ostwall, Dortmund, Germany, and the range of his work can be sampled at He is remembered and revered by generations of students, and survived by his wife and partner, Barbara Welch Breder, PhD. They married in 1984. She created and directed the Iowa City Yoga Center from 1975-2000 and retired from lecturing after three decades at the University of Iowa Department of Communication Studies in 2014. She continues to live in Iowa City.

Hans continued to create throughout his life. In addition to writing, painting and making collages, he liked to play the piano, listen to jazz and classical music, watch movies and soccer on television and walk his Belgian Shepherd, named after Rosa Luxemburg who shortly preceded him in death.

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