As a co-founder of the North European abstract expressionist avant-garde group that gives the CoBrA Museum its name, Karel Appel is definitely at home in Amstelveen. Richly featured in two out of three shows, if he was still around it wouldn't be a surprise to see the Amsterdam-born artist walking around in a dressing gown and slippers, with a cup of tea in his hand.
While the CoBrA group show on the ground floor covers a wide range of his paintings, especially focusing on the 40s-50s period, the Studio Toscane exhibition upstairs presents a more heterogeneous selection from the artist's Tuscan period in the 90s.
Karel Appel, sculpture; Photo by Catalina Iorga / Courtesy Cobra Museum
A very big ceramic installation, comprising a series of classical statues that surround a garden table, takes center stage. Appel had them all sprayed white in order to draw his characteristic animal and abstract shapes in blue all over them. Other sculptures -- realized with found materials from his neighbor's estate and carrying a less ritualistic appeal – are scattered all around the exhibition space. They stand out like ironic totems, hybrids between animals and agricultural tools. Of course a series of landscape paintings in a Tuscany-inspired show is a must, and Appel doesn't disappoint – even though I have to say the boldness of the sculptures puts them on the side.
Roberto Barni, walking man paintings installation; Photo by Catalina Iorga / Courtesy Cobra Museum
Studio Toscane is not only Karel Appel, though. The other big protagonist - the only other artist making it on the exhibition ticket – is Roberto Barni, whose “walking man” icon accompanies most of our visit. Barni's paintings are large scale, simple and chromatically strong, sharing Appel's fascination with the balance between the human and nature, but they have a discipline of their own.
The presence of other artists around the two main ones is quite refreshing: Janet Mullarney's videos of two men imitating birds open and close the exhibition in a light and engaging way, while works by Marino Marini and Jan Dibbets – the first a local, the second a sympathizer -- seal the Italy-Netherlands connection tighter.
Karel Appel, Le Muse, installation; Photo by Catalina Iorga / Courtesy Cobra Museum
Studio Toscane is like taking a walk and it should be visited in the same way that the artworks shown were probably conceived: with one eye on the pieces and one out the window, appreciating the natural context – visible from the glass wall of the museum – just as much as the show.
(Image at top: Courtesy Cobra Museum)