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Group Exhibition
Warmoesstraat 139, 1012 Amsterdam, Netherlands
December 15, 2012 - February 10, 2013

The Importance of Being Ugly
by G H

When entering A Matter of Time and Space at W139, the first thing you encounter is a horse's ass. Not very inviting, no, even blatantly rude. The ass, staring you in the face from its shiny white plinth, is part of Matthijs Bosman’s installation A Monument to Courageous Failure (2012). The entire piece resembles a monument: very classical, man on horse. It's not a beautiful piece - not trying to be either. It’s bluntly grotesque, made from the patently incompatible materials of chicken wire covered in clay.

So the exhibition starts with the ass of an ugly horse. Nice.

Well, I thought, maybe it's about the collapse of our civilized world as we know it? The end of an era, the deterioration of political and social values. There's an economic recession and the Dutch government is questioning the social relevance of art as an excuse to make spending cuts. Artists are angry, as they see a system they could once rely on fall apart.

But this wasn't the idea behind the show. Curator Maze de Boer, an artist known for site-specific installations often inspired by social and political affairs, is indeed concerned with these changes, but he didn't want the show to respond to them directly. Instead, he asked five artists and one small collective to go back to the core of what it means to be an artist. To focus on the process of making, on the physicality, on the need and desire to create. He asked them not to ponder over conundrums but simply to buy materials and to make. 

Installation view, A Matter of Time and Space, W139, Amsterdam, 2012; Photo: Henni van Beek; Courtesy of W139, Amsterdam.


Bosman rose to this challenge, choosing the monumental horse statue, the highest form of public art and a symbol for the glorification of men, knowing he could never re-create anything like it. Intrigued and frightened by the public failure ahead, he spent three days in an undignified battle with wire and clay.

No comment on a civilization in decline, just a personal journey. It's almost spiritual. Yuk. So is it just self-indulgence and narcissism we're looking at here? Is that art's answer to what's happening in the world?

Hm. Not so fast. What De Boer wanted to show is that the essence of art is not just about chasing a concept, or changing the world—even though those things are obviously important. Art is also about the process, the things that go wrong, the unexpected. What Bosman tried to figure out is what would happen if he let go of the control, something, that—if you look at the rest of his work—feels very counter-intuitive. By losing control he created something new, something ugly but intriguing, which maybe he himself barely understood.

Without a framework to refer to, just the time and the space, a new environment emerges, one not bound by pre-existing rules. It's an environment that can provide answers or raise new questions, open doors to new debates. For example, in response to de Boer’s solicitation, the New Sculpture Department (NSD) installed an architectural construction hanging from W139’s ceiling; Daniela Bershan, in the opposite corner, created a beautiful drapery from the cheapest plastic she could possibly find; Anne Verhoijsen made a group of running, fleeing people from wooden planks and clay. These are all works with a strong physicality, all with emergent stories, but none of them are led by predetermined concepts or ideas.

Installation view, A Matter of Time and Space, W139, Amsterdam, 2012; Photo: Henni van Beek; Courtesy of W139, Amsterdam.


The danger with a show like this one is that it lacks cohesion. There's too much freedom, and meaning (if it exists at all) gets completely lost. The plus side is that a lot happens in the unexpected: the subconscious gets a chance to talk. Artists can create things that are less rational, more emotion or material driven, and visitors get a chance to create the stories they like. You can go in, look around, and think whatever you want. Come up with a story and share it with friends, whether it's about the world we live in or the rear end of an ugly stallion.

And that sense of liberation, as well as the dialogue it creates, may be what it's all about. 




(Image on top: MatthijsBosman, A Monument to Courageous Failure, 2012, chicken wire and clay; Courtesy of the artist and W139, Amsterdam / Photo: Henni van Beek.)

Posted by G H on 1/14/13 | tags: installation mixed-media sculpture

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065 The importance of being ugly
Based on the photos posted in this article, I would say that the visitor´s experience was lots of fun! I would definitely like this kind of gallery show and would love to have something similar replicated in Venezuela! and would love to be invited to participate in it! best regards, Alexandra Masson

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