Fifteen years into the game Art Rotterdam has comfortably settled into the role of top contemporary art fair in the Netherlands. But director Fons Hof is not resting on his laurels. Edition 2014 signals a Great Leap Forward. This is to be taken quite literally as the fair is moving from the Cruise Terminal on the Kop van Zuid to the monumental Van Nellefabriek. The new venue, with its peripheral location bringing to mind Frieze New York, has a lot going for it: the catering – slow and poor at the old location – is now controlled by the fair itself; the numerous side-shows can easily be accommodated; and parking is not a problem. But most importantly: there is a lot more space. Visitors do not have to cross the street and enter another building to see the video section Projections. And the New Art section with young galleries is no longer tucked away on the ground floor, which in the old location unwittingly suggested a hierarchy amongst participants.
The move to a larger space also means numerical growth. For years Art Rotterdam drew some seventy-something galleries, with a pretty stable Dutch delegation at the core. Increasingly, though, foreign participation grew, doing so at the expense of national input. Art Rotterdam was developing in the direction of a boutique version of Artissima: high quality art but rather restricted to a niche, mostly neo-conceptual. With the present expansion of the fair this anemic tendency seems to have been halted. With 112 presentations spread over three sections Art Rotterdam 2014 offers a much broader, multi-faceted art experience. A closer look at the no less than thirty-six galleries debuting in this edition confirms this.
Of the six first-timers from the Netherlands LhGWR from The Hague is the most logical addition to the roster. The photography of Marleen Sleeuwits the gallery is presenting did well at the Unseen Photo Fair, amongst the presentations of many Art Rotterdam-veterans. In her new work – empty, neon-lit offices stripped of human artifacts – Sleeuwits’ grasp of space as a mental construction and vice versa, the mind as space, comes to a new climax. It’s Being John Malkovich with an architectural slant.
Another Dutch newcomer is Ornis A. Gallery, originally from Utrecht but as of last year located in the heart of the Amsterdam gallery district. Its strictly figurative selection is a far cry from the Art Rotterdam tradition. The same goes for Miko Veldkamp’s quite subtle paintings of landscapes and colorful figures brought by the extremely young, semi-nomadic Galerie Rianne Groen from Rotterdam.
Evi Vingerling, Untitled, 2012, gouache on canvas, 210 x 160 cm; Courtesy of the artist and Kristof De Clercq Gallery, Ghent.
Situated a mere one hour drive from Antwerp, Art Rotterdam has always had a strong focus on Belgian collectors. And since buying behavior still largely follows nationality, adding five Belgian galleries to the fair strengthens this strategic positioning. Among them are the established Galerie Fortlaan 17, which has been operating from Ghent since 1979, and the Brussels based Elaine Levy Project. New exhibitors Geukens & De Vil and Galerie van der Mieden previously presented at Art Amsterdam. Kristof De Clercq is representative of the trend towards painting on the brink of abstraction. This Ghent gallery couples the architecturally inspired canvases of Agnes Maes and Vicken Parsons – the former slightly narrative, the latter formal in a René Daniëls kind of way – with Evi Vingerling’s wonderfully organic take on nature and light.
With Dutch galleries expanding into Germany – nine of them participate in the upcoming Art Cologne – a beefing up of German participation in Art Rotterdam, and the inherent increased attraction value for Rhineland collectors, was to be expected. Eight galleries, mostly from Berlin, show in Rotterdam for the first time. Amongst them are some exciting surprises such as Galerie Mario Mazzoli, dedicated to sound art. Grimmuseum is probably the only non-profit participant. The artist-run space, a fixture in the Berlin underground scene since 2009, presents The Shop Floor by Ada Van Horebeke. The installation consists of a floor sculpture measuring ten square feet, made out of 350 kilograms of clay and combined with a soundscape of breaking glass and creaking floorboards.
Steve Gianakos, It was an adept piece of semi-improvisation, 2007, acrylic on canvas, 34 X 49 cm; Courtesy of the artist and AD Gallery, Athens.
The bulk of this year’s debutants hails from the traditionally well represented gallery hubs London, Paris, and Copenhagen. But the list also features galleries from curiosity inspiring places. AD Gallery from Athens has been active since 1986 but has never attended a Dutch fair. Their combined presentation of pop art cartoons by septuagenarian Steve Gianakos and apocalyptic drawings by two colleagues thirty years younger sounds promising. Gandy Gallery has also been around a while, having operated in Prague and Bratislava since 1992, but the work of post-communism artists still gets little exposure in the West. In Rotterdam Gandy Gallery shows First Shot, a video by Danica Dakic in which a home for the mentally handicapped in Bosnia is presented as a virtual Garden of Eden, blissfully isolated from the civil wars affecting the area in 1992 and 1996.
The most exotic name on the roster is Gypsum Gallery. In Rotterdam this barely one-year-old gallery from Cairo presents the work of Berlin-based Iranian artist Setareh Shahbazi. In 1985 Shahbazi and her family were forced into exile, only to return years later. In the project Spectral Days the artist reflects on memories of her fatherland and the concept of national identity by manipulating photos from the family album. She roughly scans them so they become partially pixilated, mixes them, reverses positive and negative, and tweaks the colors until psychedelia sets in. The result is intimate and haunting at the same time.
(Image on top: Marleen Sleeuwits, interior no. 41, 2013, ultrachromeprint on aluminium with frame, 55 x 64 cm, edition: 10; Courtesy of the artist and LhGWR, Rotterdam.)