Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen
Museumpark 18-20, 3015 CX Rotterdam, Netherlands
June 14, 2014 - September 21, 2014
Bringing private passions into the public realm
by Edo Dijksterhuis
Posted by Edo Dijksterhuis
| tags: collector's catalogue collectors Chinese private-collection Netherlands
For the better part of their lives Henk de Heus and his wife Victoria de Heus-Zomer have worked to build up their business. The De Heus animal feed company has a hundred year history but it wasn’t until the last couple of decades that the family business from rural Barneveld boomed, becoming a world leader in animal nutrition, a multinational active in fifty countries. The de Heus-Zomer couple has invested a sizeable part of the resulting fortune in art. Since the late eighties they have collected works of art in large numbers but until recently they have stayed very much under the radar. The March 2013 exhibition of their Dutch art in the Singer Museum in Laren marked their coming out as collectors. This exhibition, titled Cobra tot Dumas, was the first in an exhibition triptych. The follow-up was an international show centered on nature and landscapes in Museum Belvédère. The finale, now on show at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, focuses on their collection of contemporary Chinese art.
This series of exhibitions fits in with a trend. Ever since the Dutch government started pulling out of the museum sector and demanding a more self-reliant mode of operation, we have seen quite a few presentations of private collections in public institutions. In the US public-private cooperation of this kind is common, but in the Dutch cultural landscape, which has been strongly government dominated since the Second World War, it’s a novelty. Even so much so that De Fundatie in Zwolle—explicitly set up in 2005 as a collectors’ museum—had a bit of a false start: collectors were not yet used to going public. But that soon changed. In 2011 the Kunsthal in Rotterdam hosted I Promise to Love You, an overwhelming presentation of Joop van Caldenborgh’s world-class collection. Last year saw, amongst others, Zero art from the Manders Collection in Museum Van Bommel Van Dam. And this summer we also have the Sanders Collection in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and an anonymous private collection in the Fotomuseum Den Haag to enjoy.
The advantages for museums are obvious: big private collectors command resources far greater than museums and buy expensive pieces which institutions are unable to procure and present. On top of that, they usually pay for the logistics of their own exhibitions, thus easing the pressure on museum budgets. And by honoring collectors with an exhibition museums hope to forge lasting alliances, eventually resulting in donations.
But reliance on private partners is not without pitfalls. Since a museum presentation boosts the provenance of a work of art and makes it more attractive at auction, collectors may use institutions to increase the value of their property. The most blatant example of this practice is super-collector and owner of his own museum, Charles Saatchi, whose tactics have been dubbed “show and sell.” But the Netherlands is not immune for this type of misuse. Entrepreneur Bert Kreuk, who showed his collection at the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag in the summer of 2013, sold off a considerable number of works later that year at Sotheby’s New York.
Hai Bo, The Northern Series - A Man is Riding Bicycle No. 8, 2005, Color photograph, 129 x 81 x 8 cm; © De Heus-Zomer Collection
With Chinese contemporary art still very much on the rise in the art market, the danger of price manipulation over the backs of museums is definitely real. Boijmans Van Beuningen Director Sjarel Ex, however, is relying on the integrity of the De Heus-Zomer family, who are not known to sell off art. Moreover, Focus Beijing is not an opportunistic endeavor, solely undertaken for the sake of cutting costs. The Rotterdam museum has a history of showing contemporary Chinese art, the 2006 overview China Contemporary being the highlight so far. For Focus Beijing Ex did not simply hand over his museum to the collectors but had his curators carefully select from the De Heus-Zomer Collection.
The resulting show combines a few internationally recognized stars with a large group of artists lesser known in the West. Having started acquiring contemporary Chinese art in 1998, often by artists they have personal acquaintance with, the De Heus-Zomer Collection concentrates on the so-called second and third generation artists. Representatives of the first generation, roughly placed between the proclamation of the Open Door Policy in 1978 and the protest at Tiananmen Square eleven years later, are absent. The same is true for the proponents of Political Pop, who combined symbols of Western consumerism such as the Coca-Cola logo with socialist realist imagery.
Cynical Realism, dating to that same period in the early nineties as Political Pop, is obviously much more to the collectors’ tastes. The first room of the exhibition is dominated by Zhang Xiaogang. Girl (2008) shows the type of oddly colored face—yellow here, but sometimes also red or purple—Zhang is world famous for. His Four Sons (2012), four precocious, naked boys in a bed, can be read as a depiction of Chinese male-dominated society. Almost inevitable is the inclusion of Fang Lijun and Liu Wei, early flag bearers of Cynical Realism. Both are thoroughbred painters, the first in a brightly colored realism with abstract touches and the second in a more expressionistic style.
Focus Beijing contains very little performance art. Only two photographs by Wang Jin, showing a pile of people holding up a concrete bridge and a group hidden behind a massive rock, refer to what was the most influential art form during the early nineties. Zhu Fadong and Ma Liuming—these revolutionaries are absent. On the other hand, works by Ai Weiwei and Hai Bo, who had their breakthrough moments at roughly the same time, have been included in the De Heus-Zomer Collection. Ai because he simply cannot be denied. And Hai’s photographs of farmers on bicycles probably appeal to de Heus’ agrarian background.
Wang Guangle, Coffin Paint 120312, 2012, Acrylic on canvas, 80 x 80 cm; © De Heus- Zomer Collection
A private collection is always some kind of portrait of the collector, and the de Heus family can be said to highly value craftsmanship and things well-made. Place of honor has been awarded to Wang Guangle’s work, large canvases painstakingly filled with thousands of pebble-size forms. Close by hangs Liang Yuanwei’s dot painting, four square meters filled with minute brush strokes.
Focus Beijing is a solid and decent show but not wildly exciting. It just lacks a rough edge. Still, there are some surprises such as Black White Grey (2013) by Lin Tianmiao, one of the few famous female artists in China. Somewhere between sculpture and painting it combines organic forms, industrial grills, bones, and furniture in a haunting memento mori. If the collectors decide to eventually donate this work to the museum then they’ll have added something truly extraordinary to the public realm.
(Image on top: Zhang Xiaogang, Girl, 2008, Oil on canvas, 130 x 110 cm; © De Heus-Zomer Collection)
FotoMuseum Den Haag
Stadhouderslaan 43 , 2517 HV Den Haag, Netherlands
July 5, 2014 - October 12, 2014
The city as hardware, soft infrastructure, and idea
by Edo Dijksterhuis
Posted by Edo Dijksterhuis
| tags: photography street photography urban photography
Horizontals, verticals, and some disciplined curves, squares and angles offset by relentless electrical streetlights. The wall with forty vintage photographs marking the start of The Rush and Calm, Moments in the City looks like an architect’s drawing table. Karl Hugo Schmölz’s 1950s documentation of German cinemas, orchestra houses, car dealerships, and shopping malls clearly illustrates the strong focus on hardware during the post-war Reconstruction period. They show the city as landscape, the sum of town planning, math, and concrete, a formal space devoid of human life.
Turn the corner and you’ll find yourself in an explosion of bodies and faces. Gone is the tranquility. Streets and buildings have receded into the background, their status reduced to that of stage. Hardware is overruled by the soft infrastructure of human habitation—and all the action that goes with it. The street photographers making up a sizeable part of the anonymous private collection lying at the base of this exhibition, caught it in all its shades of glory and defeat.
Karl Hugo Schmölz (1917-1986), modehuis Wormland, Keulen, 1957 © Wim Cox, Cologne
Of course, Ed van der Elsken’s mods and beehives are present, as are Daido Moriyama’s smudgy depictions of Tokyo nightlife. But the majority of the forty photographers presented are American and that shouldn’t come as a surprise. In the US no cities had to be rebuilt from rubble and after World War II the country moved straight into an era of unprecedented conspicuous consumption, with the city as its most outspoken arena. Here Mitch Epstein photographed four girls sitting on a lawn holding an unbelievably large snake; in bars and dance clubs George S. Zimbel caught the first glimpses of youth subculture; and in the park Ron Galella, who soon dubbed himself “paparazzo extraordinaire,” surprised Jackie Kennedy while watching a tennis game, subsequently chasing her to her chauffeur-driven car.
Except as a place for the new, the weird, and the wonderful, the city also came into its own as the ultimate locus of loneliness. Dana Lixenberg’s portraits of homeless men in a New York shelter—a parade of dead eyes and burned hopes—are chilling in their directness. The men in Saul Leitner’s images are often better off, sitting in a restaurant or moving along in a cab, but they are always depicted behind glass. Here also, communication has become impossible. The positive flipside of the city’s isolation and anonymity is the room left to indulge in individual passions. Would Joan Colom have tried to photograph women’s behinds in any place less metropolitan than Barcelona, he would have been lynched.
A lot of the names in The Rush and Calm, Moments in the City have popped up in Dutch museum shows over the past decade. Lee Friedlander’s The New Car, the fabulous series of car portraits which revolutionized commercial photography by introducing a snapshot-like quality, was on show at FOAM as recently as last year. The Amsterdam museum often features street photography and has also shown Moriyama, Epstein, Colom, Walker Evans, and Helen Levitt, mostly in solo exhibitions. The great surplus value of this presentation, however, is that it shows all these greats together and as part of an era characterized by an unprecedented urban vitality. Even more so, it makes clear how this group cemented photography’s status as the ultimate medium for documenting this new, fast, and chaotic form of social organization.
Michael Wolf, Tokyo Compression, 2010; Courtesy of the artist and Fotomuseum Den Haag
At the end of the show, where the most recent work hangs, the curator could have chosen to make a conceptual U-turn, back to Schmölz’s architectural approach. The empty interiors of Candida Höfer or Andreas Gursky would have rounded off the story nicely. And with Frank van der Salm’s aerial photograph of a rooftop pool it seems to end up that way. But in the last hall the perspective shifts in a different direction. Larry Sultan portrays porn stars in Californian villas, Katharina Bosse burlesque dancers on pavements, and Pierre Faure a doll-like woman standing in the middle of a busy Tokyo intersection. Man seems to have merged with his surroundings; the city has been internalized and “the person in the city” has evolved into “the city person.” This new dynamic, emblematic of the 21st century in which more people live in cities than not, becomes clearest in Marnix Goossens’ Silver Beach. It shows trees, bushes, and grass in all chlorophyllic shades. In the middle sits a parked Opel painted in the most hideous green, sticking out like a sore thumb. Urban life makes itself known without the usual hustle and bustle, light or concrete. The city has become an idea.
[Image on top: Karl Hugo Schmölz (1917-1986), Rheinpreussen, Gasstation Oskar Jägerstrasse, 1952; © Wim Cox, Cologne]
Diversity in Autonomy: São Paulo’s Independent Art Spaces
by Vivian Mocellin
Posted by Vivian Mocellin
| tags: São Paulo art scene independent art spaces contemporary Brazilian Art
Independent, autonomous, alternative, experimental. These are some of the designations used to name several arts spaces inaugurated in recent years in Brazil and especially in São Paulo. The variety of nomenclatures doesn’t constitute a mere semantic shift or strategy to escape classification; it actually reflects a vast plurality of practices and positions. These spaces are as experimental as the art they produce; everything—their architecture, artists, projects, programmes, managerial approaches—is a relentless, non-linear and tentative process. Questioning is more recurrent than any certainty, and changes are a constant. There is always a certain feeling of impermanence in the air. But despite the differences, the underlying aspiration that connects these spaces is the desire for independence, freedom, and resistance, enunciated in different ways but always present in every statement they produce. The question that remains, though, is: against whom are they fighting, what are they trying to resist, from whom do they want to be freed?
It seems like there is not an answer for this question, but a plurality of possible responses. The enemy being fought here is invisible, evasive, and lubricous; it can be the art market, the government and its bureaucracies, capitalism, the system at large. It appears in the form of official narrative, institutional discourse, and other microphysics of power that tend to appropriate the arts reducing it to its exchange value. It is against this voidance that these independent art spaces seem to have risen, and it is this exact attitude that gives them a political importance, even when the art they produce is not necessarily political in the traditional sense. While the Brazilian arts scene emerged globally with the opening of many commercial galleries and art fairs in the last decade, it is this heterogeneous group of independent initiatives that is playing an essential role in the reception, development, and promotion of experimental art in the country today. More than creating a place for artistic expression, they create a noise that reverberates with different voices and desires, giving visibility to types of art that don’t find a place in the traditional arts circuit.
These spaces are spread through the whole city, but in the last two years there has been a concentration of them in downtown São Paulo. The area, once wracked by crime and violence, is now experiencing a revitalization. Architecturally stunning, the region boasting the addresses of some of the major art institutions in the country—Pinacoteca, CCBB and Caixa Cultural—has also seen a wave of openings of new culture-oriented places such as Balsa (which defines itself as a space for encounters with no fixed opening hours) and commercial initiatives such as the Red Bull Station (that promotes interdisciplinary projects involving music and arts, including a residency program and regular workshops/seminars). All of them were attracted to the area by the decadent and elusive charm that emanates from its sumptuous baroque and neoclassical buildings, as well as some of its astonishing early-modern edifices such as Copan, designed by the acclaimed Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer.
Pivô exterior; Courtesy of the author
It is this S-shaped building, highly influenced by the ideas of Le Corbusier, that houses the most talked about of the independent art spaces: Pivô. Occupying an abandoned dentist office that spreads across a good part of the first and second floors of the building, the non-profit cultural organization's emphasis is on the interlacement of arts, architecture, urban planning, and critical theory, especially through projects that are directly related to the space they inhabit—the Copan building—its historical and socio-political aspects, as well as its surroundings. For example, artist Lais Myrrha's “Gameleria” project, exhibited on the former mezzanine of the Copan, was an investigation of the biggest civil accident in Brazil’s history, which killed over 100 workers in 1971 during the construction of a Niemeyer edifice in the heyday of modernism. In an effort to protect the image of the modernist utopia, media exposure of the accident was limited, instituting a kind of social amnesia which erased the tragedy from the official narrative of modern Brazil. Myrrha restitutes this memory, creating a kind memorial and gravestone of the accident in the heart of one the landmarks of the modernist project and Niemeyer’s career. On the second floor of Pivô, artist Erica Ferrari's Corpos d’Água (Bodies of Water) investigates the condition of the rivers in São Paulo. Fundamental in the foundation and development of the city, they have undergone harsh transformations, being virtually erased from the city’s landscape to open way to concrete and urbanization—a metaphor of the political and social complexity of Brazil’s biggest city.
Not too far from Pivô, we find .Aurora, an autonomous art space formed and managed by five artists (Bel Falleiros, Diogo Lucato, Francesco Di Tillo, Gabriel Gutierrez and Laura Davina) and an exhibition designer (Claudia Afonso). It serves as a studio, exhibition space, and a place for artist exchanges, with programmes that include talks and projects by guest artists. One of these projects is Vitrine, a mini solo exhibition space where guest artists are invited to occupy 1.5 square meters of .Aurora’s space with their work. The current edition, (Re), is a collaboration between the performer Shima and artist Raquel Schembri, consisting of an exchange of letters exploring each other's creative process. Their correspondence will now be unveiled to the public, culminating in a performance in November during the Vitrine group exhibition. In addition, .Aurora offers a space dedicated to independent publications, artists' books, and multiples; it presents site-specific installations in its second-floor windows; and it runs Dialogues, an ongoing series of dialogues and talks with professionals from various fields.
Gustavo Ferro, Installation view at Phosphorus; Courtesy of the gallery
Deeper in the center of the city we find two other independent initiatives: Phosphorus and PaperBox Lab. The spaces are located a few minutes walk from each other in Sé, the region where the city of São Paulo was born. In fact, before a reconfiguration in the traffic, both spaces shared the same address—Rua do Carmo, the first street of the city—as artist Gustavo Ferro tells us. He keeps a studio at PaperBox Lab, but together with founder Maria Montero coordinates Phosphorus, now located at Rua Roberto Simonsen in a historic house built in 1890. Opened in 2011, Phosphorus shares the space with a clothing archive called Casa Juisi, and includes temporary studios, space for residencies, exhibition rooms, an open library and living room. Born from the founder’s desire for a place for encounters, discussions, and collaboration, it seeks to be free from commercial and institutional restraints, inventing alternative forms of material and intellectual autonomy. Currently participating in the residency program are the artists Glayson Arcanjo, Janaina Wagner, Márcia Beatriz Granero, and Daniel Albuquerque, whose group exhibition opened on August 17th and showcases the results of their work at the space. Meanwhile, to help support the operations of the not-for-profit space, Maria Montero opened Galeria Sé in the same building, a venture that despite being for-profit, remains committed to exposing experimental art such as Deco Adijanam’s. His debut exhibition comprised pieces made mainly of debris, stumps, and pieces of wood; his poetry materialized itself in the form of objects, installations, and assemblages.
Five minutes away is PaperBox Lab, occupying three levels of another historic building, which was found abandoned by Angelo Palumbo, a Brazilian artist from the '80s pop generation. Totally reformed, the place now has now an impressive structure including exhibition spaces, meeting rooms, lounges and individual ateliers, besides an ongoing programme of talks, workshops, and seminars—some of them open to the public. Without a curatorial agenda guiding the space, the artists are free to produce independently or to collaborate. The only rule is that they have to stay for at least a year, which is the time they consider necessary for the maturation of a work. Visiting the studios we can find artists working on varied practices and in different languages, with a mix of new artists and more established names, such as Jorge Feitosa and Clara Ianni, who is represented by Galeria Vermelho and selected to be part of the 31st São Paulo Biennale opening next month.
If the proximity of these independent spaces was merely geographic at first, they have recently started a conversation between each other, which resulted in the launching of Circuito Centro, a project that aims to create networks and collaborations between art spaces located in the center (including others not mentioned in this article). The results of this cooperation remains to be seen. Each space is a clear reflection of the personalities, beliefs, and desires of the artists, curators, and other agents involved and even though their differences might be more manifest than their similarities, it is possible to recognize that above all, what unites them goes far beyond the eclectic nomenclature with which they identify themselves. These independent, alternative, self-run spaces are above all authorial projects born out of the desires of their founders to restitute an affective dimension to art production by embracing the whole creative process in its material and immaterial aspects. More than mere physical spaces, they constitute places of resistance and a battlefield for the freedom of thinking, making, and being.
(Image on top: Copan building from the air; Courtesy of the author)