Born in Paris in 1936, Jean-Jacques Lebel had three critical encounters in New York early on in his life: Billie Holiday, Marcel Duchamp, and André Breton. He published his first art, poetry and political magazine Front unique in Florence, which held in 1955 his first solo exhibition at the Galleria Numero. After a turbulent time spent among the Surrealists, he exhibited his work at Arturo Schwarz in Milan, at Iris Clert and Simone Collinet in Paris, and then in countless museums and galleries throughout the world.
In 1960, Lebel authored, in Venice, “L’enterrement de “la Chose” de Tinguely” (The Burial of Tinguely’s “Thing”), the first European happening. He also published the first critical essay in French on the happenings movement. From that point on, he has produced more than seventy happenings, performances, and actions over several continents while continuing his pictorial, poetic, and political activities. He has worked in Paris, London, New York, and elsewhere with Claes Oldenburg, Allan Kaprow, Tetsumi Kudo, Erró, Carolee Schneemann, Yoko Ono, Daniel Pommereulle, Nam June Paik, and Robert Filliou, among others.
In 1966, he translated into French and published the work of his friends William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Gregory Corso, Michael McClure, Diane di Prima, Bob Kaufman, Jack Kerouac, Philip Lamantia in La Poésie de la Beat Generation (Paris: Éditons Denoël, 1966).
He was the co-organizer, in Paris, Venice, and Milan, of the “Anti-Procès” (The anti-trial), a touring international arts event and exhibition that in 1960 and 1961 brought together sixty artists of various tendencies in opposition to the Algerian war and against torture. In 1960, he was the initiator of the 4-meter x 5-meter “Grand Tableau Antifasciste Collectif” (Great collective antifascist painting) done by Enrico Baj, Roberto Crippa, Gianni Dova, Erró, Lebel, and Antonio Recalcati, which was exhibited during the Milan “Anti-Procès” in 1961.
In 1964, he invented the “Free Expression Festival” and then, in 1979, the “Polyphonix International Festival”, which was open to artists, poets, film makers, and musicians from dozens of countries. These nomadic and autonomous arts events present direct poetry, concerts, art actions, and exhibitions, along with film and video projections. The fortieth edition notably took place in 2002 at the Georges Pompidou Center, the headquarters of Radio France, Le Fresnoy, and the La Verrière psychiatric hospital in a coproduction with fifteen foreign cultural institutes. On this occasion, a major illustrated anthology was published, accompanied by a CD.
In 1967, Lebel staged Pablo Picasso’s play Le Désir attrapé par la queue with Taylor Mead, Rita Renoir, Ultra Violet, and the English rock group The Soft Machine.
In 1968, Lebel took part in the activities of the March 22nd Movement and then those of the anarchist group “Noir et Rouge” and in the “Informations et Correspondances Ouvrières group”. He followed the university courses of the philosopher Gilles Deleuze at Vincennes and Saint-Denis. He produced programs for the France Culture radio network about Allen Ginsberg, Pierre Clastres, the LIP Action Committee, Linton Kwesi Johnson, John Giorno, Jayne Cortez, Bernard Heidsieck, and about numerous other cultural and political current-affairs topics. In the 1970s, Lebel edited with Daniel Guérin, at Éditions Pierre Belfond (Paris), the “Changer la vie!” collection, which republished several major historical texts of the international anarchist movement.
As early as 1988, upon his return from a long meditative exile, Lebel began publicly exhibiting his own pictorial work again in U.S., European, and Japanese galleries and museums. Three major retrospective show have taken place recently: at the Saint Etienne Museum of Modern Art (2012) : Jean-Jacques Lebel. Peintures, collages, assemblages – 1955-2012 (curator : Lórànd Hegyi), at the MAMCO in Geneva, Switzerland (2013) : Soulèvements II, Cycle L’Éternel Détour (curator : Christian Bernard) ; and the ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany (2014) : Jean-Jacques Lebel, Soulèvements III. Il n’est d’art qu’insurrectionnel/The Highest of All The Arts is Insurrection (curator : Bernhard Serexhe).
In addition to numerous solo exhibitions, he participated in important group exhibitions : Ubi Fluxus. Ibi Motus (Biennale de Venise, 1990), Hors Limites. L'Art et la Vie, 1952-1994 (MNAM, Paris, 1994), Fémininmasculin (MNAM, Paris, 1995), L’Artiste face à l’Histoire (MNAM, Paris, 1997), Out of Actions (MOCA, Los Angeles, 1998), Paris, capital of the arts (Royal Academy of Arts, Londres ; Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao, 2002) ; Un Théâtre sans théâtre (MACBA, Barcelone, 2007) ; Traces du sacré (MNAM, Paris, 2008), 3e Biennale de Moscou (2009), 1917 (Centre Pompidou-Metz, 2013), Les Désastres de la Guerre (Louvre-Lens, 2014), etc.
Jean-Jacques Lebel has published a variety of works, like: La Poésie de la Beat Generation (Paris: Éditions Denoël, 1965), Le Happening (Paris: Éditions Denoël, 1966), Lettre ouverte au regardeur, (Paris : Éditions The English Bookshop, 1966) ; Teatro y Revolucion, (Caracas : Éditions Monte Avila, 1967) ; Entretiens avec le Living Theatre (Paris: Éditions Belfond, 1968), L'Am(o)ur et l'Argent (Paris: Éditions Stock, 1979); Poésie directe. Des happenings à "Polyphonix", with Arnaud Labelle-Rojoux (Paris: Éditions Opus International, 1994) ; Grand Tableau Antifasciste Collectif (Paris: Éditions Dagorno, 2000) ; À pied, à cheval et en Spoutnik, recueil de textes sur l’art sous la direction de Didier Semin, (préface de Didier Semin), Paris, ENSBA, 2009 ; Happenings de Jean-Jacques Lebel ou l'insoumission radicale with Androula Michaël (Paris: Éditions Hazan, 2009); Angeli (Fac-similé d'un carnet de dessins) (Liège : Éditions Yellow Now, 2009) ; Interdit au-delà (Cologne : Éditions W.Koenig, 2014) ; Epopée d'un tableau de Erró kidnappé pendant cinquante-deux ans (Paris : Éditions Acratie, 2014). Furthermore, he has organized or coorganized a number of collective, individual, or thematic exhibitions, including: “L’Anti-Procès” (Paris, Venice, Milan, 1960-1961), “Pour en finir avec l’esprit de catastrophe” (Paris, 1962), Les Scapes de Erró (Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, 1985), Victor Hugo, peintre(Museum of Modern Art of Venice, 1993), Picabia, Dalmau 1922 (IVAM, the Valencian Modern Art Institute, in 1995, the Tapiès Foundation of Barcelona, and the French National Museum of Modern Art/Georges Pompidou Center, in 1996), Cent Cadavres Exquis, Juegos Surrealistas (Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, 1996-1997), Jardin d’Éros (Barcelona, 1999, and Bergen, 2000), Du chaos dans le pinceau a new presentation of the visual-arts work of Victor Hugo, coproduced by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum of Madrid and the Victor Hugo House in Paris, with Marie-Laure Prévost, in 2000), an exhibition that reveals the permanency and the complexity of erotic inspiration in the work of Pablo Picasso, Picasso érotique (Museum of Fine Arts of Montreal, in 2001).
In 2013, Jean-Jacques Lebel has organized the exhibition Beat Generation / Allen Ginsberg (Centre Pompidou-Metz ; Le Fresnoy, Tourcoing ; ZKM, Karlsruhe ; Champs Libres, Rennes ; extension to the Museum of Modern Art of Budapest in 2014). In 2016, Jean-Jacques Lebel is the co-curator of an important retrospective exhibition extending the preceding dedicated to the Beat Generation (National Museum of Modern Art/ Georges Pompidou Center, Paris). The event will continue at the ZKM of Karlsruhe in 2017.
His works are to be found in numerous museums, including: the French National Museum of Modern Art/Georges Pompidou Center, the Museum of Modern Art of the City of Paris, the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome, the Ludwig Múzeum in Budapest, the Israel Museum in Jerusalem (Arturo Schwarz Collection), the Museum of the Object in Blois (Éric Fabre Collection), the Museo Vostell in Malpartida, the Museu Colecção Berardo in Lisbon (Portugal), the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona (MACBA), the Museum Kunst Palast in Düsseldorf, the Graz Museum, and the Museum of Fine Arts of Montreal, The N.Y.U. Grey Art Gallery (New York), the Museum of the Hospice Saint-Roch, Issoudun, the Modern Art Museum of Alger, the Museum of Fine Arts of Nantes, etc. ...