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Vincent Van Gogh
Beurs van Berlage
Damrak 243 , 1012 ZJ AMSTERDAM , Netherlands
May 24, 2014 - December 24, 2014

Too Much Van Gogh: A journey from 3D to 2D and back again
by Andrea Alessi and Manus Groenen

There’s some buzz in New York this summer because all seventeen of the Met’s van Gogh paintings are on view together for the first time in over ten years. That’s nice, though an abundance of van Gogh paintings isn’t something that preoccupies us too much here in Amsterdam. In fact, right now we’ve got too many—including quite a few of the ones currently installed at the Met.

Packed wall-to-wall in the basement of the Beurs van Berlage these days are some two hundred digitally “re-created” paintings amassed under the modest title: Van Gogh: The Ultimate Collection. The traveling exhibition, a reincarnation of Van Gogh: My Dream Exhibition (2012-2013), is organized by Local World, a Dutch communications bureau, and it’s the type of thing you’d find right at home in, say, Las Vegas, Disney, or another place where mimicry cheerfully supersedes authenticity. But we’re not in Vegas. We’re in Amsterdam. And The Ultimate Collection is open for business a mile and a half from the actual largest collection of van Gogh artworks in the world—the Van Gogh Museum—and about sixty miles from the second largest collection, the Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo. What can one learn from facsimile when reality beckons around the corner?

On a beautiful July morning my colleague Manus Groenen and I met in Amsterdam for a day of feasting our eyes on van Gogh. We’d see it all: the “ultimate” and the real. We’d discover what could be gleaned from the virtual that might be overlooked in the flesh. Remember: we did this so you don’t have to. Our reactions follow.

Andrea Alessi, August 2014


Courtesy YouTube


Andrea Alessi: I don’t know about you, but I really wanted to give Van Gogh: The Ultimate Collection the benefit of the doubt. Even so, I think we were feeling a bit snarky going into this experiment, weren’t we?

Manus Groenen: Yes, I wasn´t sure what to expect. I tried to approach the whole thing as the average tourist and just be open minded, but my art historical side was critical from the start. If you are brave enough to call your exhibition The Ultimate Collection without having any actual van Gogh paintings—that alone made my skin crawl.

AA: One of the things I think we were both wondering was: who is going to this exhibition, and why are they choosing it over visiting the Van Gogh Museum? Do you think we found any answers?

MG: If you are an average tourist who just wants to see Amsterdam highlights, I can imagine visiting The Ultimate Collection sounds interesting. The show doesn´t hide the fact that it only shows re-created works. This allows the exhibition to include prints of works that you can’t see in the Van Gogh Museum because they belong to other museums or private collections from all over the world. They even have a section where you can see works that don’t exist anymore because they are missing or destroyed!

AA: That was probably the coolest part, I should add. It was installed in an ornate vault, accompanied by tales of theft, fire, and Nazis…

MG: Besides that, the exhibition claims to show van Gogh’s works as he intended them. “The colour and detail that has been lost in the passing of time are restored, thanks to cutting-edge digital imaging technology.” The promise of seeing the ultimate show, all of his best works, the way van Gogh intended them does sound appealing. The fact that they included seven of his works in 3D animation even got me a bit excited. I don’t really mind innovative ways of making historic art more appealing to the audience. I expected an immersive experience in the lines of this one—definitely not the real thing, but a fun way to experience van Gogh’s work. 

AA: Yes! That sort of over-the-top, outsized experience is exactly what I was hoping for. As you said, and to their credit, the staff at The Ultimate Collection were clear that this is something very different from the Van Gogh Museum. In hindsight, I see it as an exhibition about a historical figure—who could have been an artist, a musician, a politician, a doctor—that just happens to be illustrated by “paintings,” whereas the Van Gogh Museum privileges the art. There’s almost an inverse focus, despite some of the same tools, themes, and strategies being used: both had a roughly chronological layout and both addressed the chemical changes in paint color over time, one in an obviously more sophisticated way.

MG: Yes, I agree with your point on storytelling. The fact that colors change over time is an interesting issue. Seeing the actual paintings after seeing their (screamingly bright) recreations did make me wonder about van Gogh’s intentions more. The Van Gogh Museum devotes two rooms to exactly these problems concerning fading colors, the artist’s intention, and conservation.

AA: I hadn’t realized van Gogh knew how volatile some of his colors were—particularly red. His awareness further complicates notions of intention. The Van Gogh Museum quotes the artist as saying: “All the colors that Impressionism has made fashionable are unstable, all the more reason to boldly use them too raw, time will only soften them too much.”

Van Gogh: The Ultimate Collection, Installation view with overzealous spot lighting


MG: That was amazing to see after seeing the other show first. The attempts at recreating van Gogh’s intended colors in the Beurs van Berlage were interesting, although they appeared a bit cheap and didn’t go into the research behind it that much. It was quite psychedelic at times. There were some remarks in the guestbook that said things like “yes, we were stoned watching this!” with drawings of marijuana leaves and bongs. This more colorful and trippy 3D van Gogh might be a good exhibition to visit stoned. When sober, the real thing would be your best choice.

AA: From what I hear, the Van Gogh Museum is pretty great to visit high. Maybe the 3D animations were meant to imitate the classic tourist activity of getting baked before visiting the Van Gogh Museum. Not only did The Ultimate Collection replicate the paintings, but it also replicated the van Gogh tourist experience! Meta.

MG: What offended me most is the pretense that this exhibition shows van Gogh’s work “as he himself envisioned it”! That is quite a powerful claim to make, especially for a show with only prints. If you make this promise you should deliver an amazing show, backing it up with loads of research and evidence of which almost none is shown. I think it would be hard to find van Gogh complain in one of his letters about the fact that his paintings weren’t 3D animations or cheap prints. So please don’t make these kinds of statements.

AA: Ha! How do you really feel? I agree that the execution was a disappointment. The works were unframed, printed on firm board. A couple were pretty low-res. The wall colors were distracting and text from the previous exhibition was still visible through the paint. The spot lighting was awful. Some of the images were crooked—I straightened one out!

I’d rather leave it there though and instead think about what we learned in comparison, because, let’s face it, by the time we went to the Van Gogh Museum we’d never been so excited to see some van Gogh paintings in our lives. And I think we were particularly tuned in to things like color, brushstroke, and technique. Do you have any observations about seeing the very same works we’d seen in reproduction in person?

MG: I’ve gotten used to seeing reproductions of artworks as images, be it online or in books. I think I even have a van Gogh tie hidden somewhere. (A gift people seem to think an art historian appreciates because I’ve got a Dali one as well.) But these reproductions tend to reduce a painting to an image and mere decoration, but a real painting is more than an image—it is an object too—and especially things like visible brushstrokes, the mass of pasty clods of paint and the way light and shadows work on these make the originals much more vibrant than any reproduction.

Like they teach you in art history class: don’t trust reproductions! The differences you can find online demonstrate how widely they can vary.

Vincent van Gogh, The Potato Eaters, Nuenen, April 1885, Oil on canvas, 82 × 114 cm (32.3 × 44.9 in); Collection Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; Courtesy Vincent van Gogh Stichting


AA: Exactly. It was unbelievable how much we missed that in the imitations. The texture of the paint and brushstrokes was so critical by comparison. In some instances the colors were muddier—particularly in paintings from van Gogh’s early Dutch period. The Potato Eaters and some early still lifes are so dark you can hardly see what’s happening. In The Ultimate Collection’s “restored” version there appeared to be a mysterious light source other than the lamp hanging from the ceiling. There were also a couple early paintings—such as Avenue of Poplars in Autumn, with its yellows and oranges—that were so vibrantly retouched I hardly recognized them in the Van Gogh Museum.

I want to go back to the 3D animations. We both kind of liked them—you wanted the 3D Almond Blossom as your screensaver!—and it would have been great if everything was hyper-real like that. In the Van Gogh Museum gift shop there were 3D printed copies of a few paintings (on sale for a mere 25,000 euro). These were fascinating. If The Ultimate Collection had used a technique like that, it would have been a very different story. It would have opened onto what’s real, what’s important in looking at an artwork: does aura matter? But The Ultimate Collection images were so clearly reproductions—and not very good ones—that it kind of cut that discussion off.

(left) Manus looking at 3D animation of Almond Blossoms in The Ultimate Collection; (right) Manus looking at 3D printed reproduction of Almond Blossoms in the Van Gogh Museum gift shop. (Did we just blow your mind?)


MG: Yes, I did like the 3D animations! There was one featuring a painting van Gogh made in the Saint-Paul Asylum in Saint-Rémy—they used it to create a strange, being lost paranoia effect, which I liked. I wouldn’t mind seeing one of those in the Van Gogh Museum as a fun gimmick to enhance the drama of the story for those with less imaginative capacities. I expected it to be more over the top, cut off ears coming right at you and stuff.

I agree with you that this discussion about the real thing versus reproductions isn’t complicated by The Ultimate Collection. But it did make me excited about the real thing. To leave Benjamin’s notion of the Aura alone, perhaps it’s more appropriate to call the real artworks celebrities. Doesn’t matter how many movies Brad Pitt is in, in reality he still is swarmed by fans and paparazzi that want to make even more images of him. The unique real thing is what people still want to see. Even if it’s just for the duration of the time the audio tour stops you in front of a painting, people love spending time with the real thing. Perhaps just for the feeling of having been there, but still that counts for something.


Andrea Alessi and Manus Groenen


(Image on top: Vincent van Gogh, Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear, Easel and Japanese Print, January 1889, Oil on canvas, 60 × 49 cm; Collection of the Courtauld Institute Galleries, London / Two reproductions of the same van Gogh painting, as found online)

Posted by Andrea Alessi and Manus Groenen on 8/28 | tags: modern Conversation aura prints 3D animations 3D Print Van Gogh impressionism

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Art critic pattern blindness: On ignoring trends in Amsterdam this September
by Andrea Alessi

One of my colleagues crafted his city’s fall preview around the challenge of choosing exhibitions to visit when there’s so much to see. It’s a difficult task we all face, and quite frankly, I might have taken this approach myself. Instead, when charged with writing about September offerings I ended up looking for patterns; like a gallery staging a summer group show, I wondered what ad hoc themes I might attach to Amsterdam art this month. Of course, it’s a task more hopeless than trying to see too much art, though maybe with the right algorithm and a massive computer to run the computations I could find statistically significant factors no one—neither gallerist nor artist—knew they’d yielded. (And maybe get headhunted by ArtRank in the process).

Alas, I have no such program. And really, as ever, there’s something for everyone: painting and new media, hot new solos and establishment retrospectives, hip art fairs, and artworks political, conceptual, and formal. With such diversity in mind, here are some mini-trends and outliers I’m looking forward to in Amsterdam* this month:

Marlene Dumas, Nuclear Family, 2013, Oil on canvas, 200 x 180 cm; © Marlene Dumas / Fondation Beyeler, Riehen/Basel; Photo: Peter Cox


The biggest name recognition this fall comes, unsurprisingly, from the Stedelijk Museum which will launch Marlene Dumas’ first retrospective in the Netherlands in twenty years: The Image as Burden. The exhibition will include nearly two hundred of the Cape Town native’s works ranging from the iconic to the lesser-known, including drawings straight from her Amsterdam studio. For one of the Netherlands’ most beloved painters, the attention seems long overdue (ArtSlant will have the complete report next week).

The idea of “image as burden” hints at the friction between an image’s ostensive subject and the painterly gesture. It also leads nicely into my nearest success at identifying a trend in the handful of exhibitions exploring image making in the twenty-first century, including artists who “break down the fourth wall” to reveal the digital, or perhaps photographer-ly gesture. This season FOAM will present a solo show of Paul Huf Award winner Daniel Gordon’s lush portraits and still lifes, which are constructed IRL from images found online. A second FOAM exhibition, Under Construction – New Positions in American Photography, will highlight nine photographers who rethink their medium. Some see photographs and digital source materials as renewable objects; others shatter their images’ illusions, revealing the tools, craft, and apparatuses that made them. Artists include Jessica Eaton, Lucas Blalock, Sara VanDerBeek, and Owen Kydd and if it’s anything like the eponymous issue of FOAM Magazine preceding it, it will be a challenging and visually delightful presentation.

Rafaël Rozendaal, Into Time 14 05 04, 2014, Lenticular painting (unique piece), 120 x 90 cm; Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij; Courtesy of the artist and Upstream Gallery, Amsterdam


Along similar lines, Upstream Gallery will present Shifting Optics, featuring seven artists for whom digital techniques and imagery are not limited to new media and the traditionally digital domain. Works made especially for this exhibition will incorporate the digital across a variety of media, including painting, video, textile, and an iPhone app. Artists include Rafaël Rozendaal, Shannon Finley, Travess Smalley, and Tabok Robak.

Shifting again, you’ll catch two new film presentations with political perspectives this month. Annet Gelink will present Yael Bartana’s latest project, True Finn, which debuted this year in Helsinki at the IHME Contemporary Art Festival. Themes like immigration, identity, and nation building recall her And Europe Will Be Stunned… trilogy (2007-2011), featured previously at the gallery, and feel particularly relevant within the current geopolitical climate. Over at Ron Mandos Isaac Julien’s latest solo also tackles today’s pressing issues; the British filmmaker’s most recent film, PLAYTIME, will explore links between the art world and the global financial crisis, featuring actors like Maggie Cheung and James Franco with auctioneer Simon de Pury playing himself.

Charles Avery, Untitled (What’s so great about Happiness?), 2014, Pencil, ink, acrylic and gouache on paper, 97 x 70 cm | 38.2 x 27.6 inches; Courtesy of the artist and GRIMM Gallery, Amsterdam


If you enjoyed Paul Noble at Museum Boijmans this summer (and, how could you not?) you might like Charles Avery’s second solo show at GRIMM Gallery. Both artists have been doing their own obsessive thing for years—namely, building fantasy worlds—and while each has top-notch gallery representation, their practices don’t really correspond with contemporary narratives. Noble’s drawings are more impressive, but Avery’s world is more convincing. This exhibition of all new work will introduce more characters to Avery’s invented island through drawings, furniture, and interior design objects.

Jonas Lund, Studio Practice, 2014, Example of the advisory board's appraisal system with a range slider between destroy/sign; Courtesy of the artist


For a rather suiting end, check out Swedish artist Jonas Lund’s Studio Practice at Boetzelaer|Nispen. You can start watching the show today in real time, though you’ll have to wait ‘til it’s over to find out what you can buy. Painting-making is outsourced to four artists who use parameters detailed in a 300-page book made by Lund. An advisory board comprising artists, art advisors, gallerists, and collectors will review each painting online to determine whether it should be destroyed or signed and sold by Lund. I look forward to seeing if the resulting body of work reveals any trends and patterns.


* I’m limiting my picks to Amsterdam, but there’s so much happening in The Hague, Rotterdam, and even further afield, you’ll need to check back for our coverage throughout the season.


Andrea Alessi


(Image on top: Daniel Gordon, Still Life with Fish and Forsythia, 2013, C-Print, 50 x 60 inches; © Daniel Gordon / Courtesy of the artist and Wallspace, New York)

Posted by Andrea Alessi on 9/4 | tags: trends Amsterdam fall previews 2014 fall previews painting photography

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Marlene Dumas
Stedelijk Museum
Museumplein 10, 1071 DJ Amsterdam, Netherlands
September 6, 2014 - January 4, 2015

For Marlene Dumas politics are always personal
by Edo Dijksterhuis

Since its long anticipated reopening in September 2012 the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam has served up some fine shows: The Mike Kelley retrospective was, if somewhat airtight, quite comprehensive, and Jeff Wall’s Tableaux Pictures Photographs 1996-2013 could easily compete with the grand overview nine years ago at Tate Modern. But with Marlene Dumas: The Image as Burden the museum has hit a new high point. The retrospective of the nation’s best-known painter is by far the best exhibition the new Stedelijk has mounted to date.

The last Dumas retrospective in The Netherlands dates back to 1992. Following that year’s Miss Interpreted at the Van Abbemuseum, the South African born artist shot to art stardom on a global scale. Her works command six figure prices at auctions and she is celebrated as one of the most influential painters of our time, heralded as a role model by art academy students the world over. Top institutions such as the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (2007), the MoMA (2008) and Haus der Kunst (2010) have organized solo shows. But the current exhibition in Amsterdam, the city she moved to in 1976 and in which she has been living and working ever since, is the first she is really pleased with—she said so during the press preview.

Marlene Dumas, The Image as Burden, Installation view including Models, 1994, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Photo: Gert-Jan van Rooij


The Image as Burden brings together a staggering number of works: nearly two hundred paintings, drawings, and collages. Acquiring them from museums and collectors worldwide—the Stedelijk, which has been collecting Dumas since her first participation in a group show in 1978, owns thirty-nine works—is a feat in itself. Teaming up with Tate Modern and Fondation Beyeler, where the exhibition will be travelling to next, must have helped. For the spatial arrangement, the London and Basel curators should take their cue from the Stedelijk’s Leontine Coelewij. Spread out over no fewer than sixteen rooms, The Image as Burden elegantly avoids clutter or breathlessness. Keeping in mind Dumas’ own, oft repeated adagio, “a painting needs a wall to object to and space to relate to,” the individual works have been granted ample room. The arrangement is thematic instead of chronological. Following a subdued rhythm large works alternate with smaller canvases, bright colors with murky earth tones. The 112 portraits that make up Black Drawings (1991-1992) at the beginning of the exhibition have a fitting counterpoint in Models (1994), the one hundred female faces at the end of the circuit.

The relatively small room halfway through the exhibition holds the oldest works in the show. This collection of collages and drawings from the seventies sheds light on Dumas’ early development as an artist. She had only just left South Africa, where under Apartheid art didn’t feel like an adequate vehicle for expression or action. In the Netherlands, however, she didn’t exactly find the open-mindedness she had hoped for. I won’t have a potplant (1977), an almost violent drawing of domestic flora, speaks volumes in this respect. Don’t talk to Strangers (1977), consisting of the opening and closing lines of friends’ letters, is evidence of the homesickness and the sense of alienation she must have felt at times. The number of early collages is limited and that’s a pity. But the curator has obviously chosen to concentrate on painting, the medium Dumas is best known for—a justifiable decision.

It’s amazing to see how much power Dumas is able to harness in thinly applied layers of paint. The four colossal babies portrayed in The First People (1990) are simultaneously endearing and monstrous. The 1999 re-workings of pornographic images—a boy with a purple penis, a girl with blue buttocks—are extremely direct and exciting in all ways but sexual. Dumas’ Osama bin Laden (2010) brings about a shock of recognition, but that emotion is immediately overruled by something more complex than hatred or contempt since the artist presents him not as a terrorist but as the father of Omar.

Marlene Dumas, The Image as Burden, 1993, Oil on canvas, 40 x 50 cm.; Private collection, Belgium / Copyright Marlene Dumas; Photo: Peter Cox


The exhibition’s title is taken from a small, almost unassuming work from 1993. It shows a dark male figure carrying a white female. Dumas based the image on a still from the 1936 romantic drama Camille, featuring Robert Taylor and Greta Garbo. But in the painter’s abstracted depiction one could just as easily recognize the soldier rescuing a child during the Beslan school hostage crisis of 2004, a similar news image from riots in Soweto, or—of course—a classical pietà. Dumas injects her images with meaning upon meaning, reference upon reference. It burdens the picture, loads responsibility on the artist’s shoulders. But at the same time the image also exists as “just a painting” and can be considered a burden in its own right.

Death, sex, guilt, shame, sexuality, and racism are the themes Dumas has been returning to over the past four decades. Never does she approach them in the abstract or absolute way of an activist. She literally attaches them to faces and bodies, thus humanizing them and at the same time welcoming in ambiguity and confusion. With Dumas the political is always personal, and personal emotions combined with universal themes hardly ever make for easy reading. That’s what lends Dumas’ work its stamina.


Edo Dijksterhuis


(Image on top: Marlene Dumas, The Image as Burden, Installation view, Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Photo: Gert-Jan van Rooij)

Posted by Edo Dijksterhuis on 9/10 | tags: painting drawing

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