Fred Forest's Utopia

From Leonardo

Fred Forest's Utopia

Media Art and Activism

By Michael F. Leruth

“France's most famous unknown artist,” the innovative media provocateur Fred Forest, precursor of Eduardo Kac, Jodi, the Yes Men, RT Mark, and the Guerilla Girls.





“France's most famous unknown artist,” the innovative media provocateur Fred Forest, precursor of Eduardo Kac, Jodi, the Yes Men, RT Mark, and the Guerilla Girls.

The innovative French media artist and prankster-provocateur Fred Forest first gained notoriety in 1972 when he inserted a small blank space in Le Monde, called it 150 cm2 of Newspaper (150 cm2 de papier journal), and invited readers to fill in the space with their own work and mail their efforts to him. In 1977, he satirized speculation in both the art and real estate markets by offering the first parcel of officially registered “artistic square meters” of undeveloped rural land for sale at an art auction. Although praised by leading media theorists—Vilém Flusser lauded Forest as “the artist who pokes holes in media”—Forest's work has been largely ignored by the canon-making authorities. Forest calls himself “France's most famous unknown artist.” In this book, Michael Leruth offers the first book-length consideration of this iconoclastic artist, examining Forest's work from the 1960s to the present.

Leruth shows that Forest chooses alternative platforms (newspapers, mock commercial ventures, video-based interactive social interventions, media hacks and hybrids, and, more recently, the Internet) that are outside the exclusive precincts of the art world. A fierce critic of the French contemporary art establishment, Forest famously sued the Centre Pompidou in 1994 over its opaque acquisition practices. After making foundational contributions to Sociological Art in the 1970s and the Aesthetics of Communication in the 1980s, the pioneering Forest saw the Internet as another way for artists to bypass the art establishment in the 1990s. Arguing that there is a strong utopian quality in Forest's work, Leruth sees this utopianism not as naive or conventional but as a reverse utopianism: rather than envisioning an impossible ideal, Forest reenvisions and probes the quasi-utopia of our media-augented everyday reality. The interface is the symbolic threshold to be crossed with an open mind.


$29.95 T ISBN: 9780262036498 264 pp. | 6 in x 9 in 50 b&w illus.


  • Lucid, funny, informative, and engrossing, Fred Forest's Utopia is the first book in English devoted to Fred Forest who, with his 'sociological art,' invented institutional critique before it existed by multiplying politicized interventions, striking at art markets and their rituals in France, Germany, Brazil, Bulgaria, and even New York. Leruth reconstructs with verve the genealogy of another French avant-garde in a chronicle teeming with unforgettable vignettes and startling video performances.

    Jean-Michel Rabaté

    Fellow, American Academy of Arts and Sciences; Professor of English at the University of Pennsylvania

  • Dangerous for tyrants and necessary for hacktivists, Leruth's excellent and important book is the first complete study of Fred Forest's utopian parodies and pranks, spanning from the mid-1960s to the 2010s. The book offers an original, authoritative, and compact study. Readers will find here a blueprint for how Forest used video, telecommunications, web-based art, and print media to intervene in, and often parody, the art world's social systems and market forces.

    Craig Saper

    Professor, Language, Literacy, and Culture Doctoral Program, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; author of The Amazing Adventures of Bob Brown

  • Fred Forest is an artivist, a social activist who uses art to make a point, thereby irritating a lot of people. Michael Leruth reveals the commitment, the value, and the depth of l'art sociologique founded and practiced by Fred Forest.

    Derrick de Kerckhove

    former director of the McLuhan Program in Culture and Technology, University of Toronto

  • Fred Forest's uncompromising stance and his relentless exploration of new media have always been guided by a profound commitment to progressive social issues. This book bears witness to the trajectory of one of the most radical artists to have emerged in the second half of the twentieth century.

    Eduardo Kac

    artist and writer