Amsterdam is experiencing quite a cultural shake up these months. NIMk sadly shutting down for the infamous funding cuts announced earlier this year, the new and ugly Stedelijk soon to open its glass doors (September 23), and now the new De Appel building on Prins Hendrikkade. The renowned art center, formerly sitting in the hip De Pijp neighborhood, is the second cultural institution to move its headquarters to the IJ area, after the Filmmuseum left Vondelpark for its new spaceship right behind Central Station. Considering even Halbe Zijlstra and his team recognized De Appel’s cultural relevance – unlike NIMk, it was graced from the axing – visiting the venue's new building is a must-do for Amsterdam art lovers.
As the first exhibition to take place in De Appel's new home, Topsy Turvy is appropriately centered on Carnival, a celebration that – with its strong political undertones, hinted at in the very title – well embodies the extremely contemporary alliance between creativity and social turmoil. Spread over two levels, the group show spans across several decades and disciplines. The opening is quite strong: the first room includes a few prints from cult graphic novel V for Vendetta and one of Ugo Rondinone's signature clowns, lying heavily on the floor in a tight and colorful wrestling suit. Delving deeper into Topsy Turvy unveils films by Maja Borg -- her documentary Ottica Zero features Italian actress-gone-activist Nadja Cazan and Venus Project founder Jacques Fresco -- and Alberto De Michele -- who tells the story of a Colombian criminal by way of abstract figures, multiple video projections, and a spoken confession. After the initial masks, these pieces get the visitor in a more reflective mood.
James Ensor, Carnaval en Flandre, 1929-1930, Stedelijk Museum collection.
Past Allard van Hoorn's monumental LED-light wall installation, two promising yet incomplete pieces await upstairs: a short video extract from a performance by Melanie Bonajo titled Genital Panik and a poster of Matthew Barney and Arto Lindsay's De Lama Lamina, which will be screened at the EYE on June 14th. At this point, the two remaining rooms present a stark contrast: in one there is a dense concentration of articulate works (Spartacus Chetwynd's Dioramas, Toshie Takeuchi's intriguing video and photos, and Melanie Gilligan's Self Capital, a televisual satire of capitalistic schizophrenia), in the other a far less interesting series of drawings and sculptures (including Marcus Selg's theatrical installation, which I found quite confusing).
Overall, Topsy Turvy's carnivalesque theme oscillates between far-fetched and too literal (e.g. Selg's room), hitting some good spots in the process. Despite the changes in rhythm, the show does put together several compelling pieces from different times and media (see James Ensor's drawings, or the aforementioned V for Vendetta), following what seems to be a refreshing trend in contemporary art these days. While the show hasn't excited me like others I've visited at the old De Appel, its thematic appropriateness is promising.
(Image on top right: Ugo Rondinone, If There Were Anywhere But Desert. Sunday, 2000, installation; Courtesy of the artist and De Appel.