Marcel van Eeden’s work is all about time, but it always starts with a location. In his series of drawings van Eeden tells stories taking place roughly between World War I and 1965, the year of his own birth. Drawing from photographs, advertisements, and, less frequently, short texts, he creates the building blocks of a partially true and partially fictional history. With every new episode, which doesn’t necessarily follow chronology but always connects with the others and often features characters from a regular cast, this history deepens. The choice of factual raw material, however, is prompted by the venue for which the series is made.
For Ik ben G.S. 3, the killer van Den Haag, van Eeden has lifted the story about the murder of Frits Schallenberg from the archives. In 1949, Schallenberg, a shady character with an unclear war past, was found face down in a shallow pond on the Groot Hertoginnelaan, close to the present location of GEM. Police initially ruled it a suicide, but later investigations indicated that the body had been tampered with. Rumors about money-laundering, secret funds stashed away by members of the former resistance, and Schallenberg’s connection to the Vatican added to the mystery. The murder was never solved.
Marcel van Eeden, N 50 51 40.9 E 324 1.3, 2013, Nero pencil and colored pencil on laid paper, 28 x 38 cm, series of 28 drawings; Courtesy Galerie Zink, Berlin
An open-ended story full of suspense and lots of characters—perfect material for van Eeden to work with. In thirty-one drawings he tells the story of Schallenberg’s violent death. For extra dramatic effect the works have been individually lit in the darkened lower hall. In the upper hall several other series provide context, varying in size from fifteen drawings up to 150. For some, the drawings have been forgone altogether and only text is present. History moves back and forth from Waregem in 1917, where half a school class is killed by a bomb found in a field, to a double maritime disaster near Rotterdam, Gladbeck in 1928, to post-war Zürich. Oswald Sollmann, who also has a hand in Schallenberg’s murder, keeps popping up. This colorful larger-than-life figure is a murderer and a spy but also an artist and museum director. Just like van Eeden’s very first hero, Wiegand, a mountaineering professional boxer who eventually married Elizabeth Taylor, Sollmann is a collection of archetypes typical for the heyday of modernism depicted by van Eeden.
Van Eeden is a builder of systems, of worlds in which everything is connected with everything—maybe not always in a clear-cut manner but definitely with a lot of attention paid to consistency. Before starting his present project in 2006 he posted a drawing on his website daily for seven years. New work always harks back to earlier drawings. As a storyteller van Eeden adopts an almost God-like position. His perspective is all-knowing and seemingly objective, which fits with his choice to always depict events having taken place before he came into the world. But the importance of not being there, being outside time and death—murder is a recurring theme—is offset by the way van Eeden marks time and life by systematically churning out work. His drawings can be considered as some kind of existentialist logbook.
Especially in the more elaborate series van Eeden’s work tends towards graphic novels or storyboards. There is a lot of reading to be done in the exhibition’s upper hall and the drawings sometimes do not transcend the illustrative. The artist must have realized the limitations of his working method as well because over the years he has expanded into other mediums. In the Hague a documentary has been added about the tragedy in Waregem as well as a hilarious animation about a youthful Wiegand and Sollmann at the time they were active as dada artists and performed on stage dressed as giant cutlets. In the back of the lower hall the pond in which Schallenberg was found dead has been recreated—very spooky.
Marcel van Eeden, From the series I am G.S.3, the killer of The Hague' (1949), 2014, 56 x 76 cm; Courtesy of the artist and GEM, The Hague
Also in the drawings themselves has van Eeden evolved stylistically. After years of strictly adhering to black and white, color has been introduced. It is mostly employed when depicting food, bringing to life the near nasty plastic shine of old advertisements, and in abstract panels which usually signal a murder or explosion. These kaleidoscopic arrays of contrasting colors and wild brushstrokes flirt with hard edge painting or CoBrA and bring an extra art historical layer to the stories featuring Ruysdael’s work, art dealers, and artists. It also adds to van Eeden's brand of appropriation. However, the work gets most exciting when the narrator goes quiet for a moment and the draughtsman is catapulted into a narrative side street. Three slightly larger street views of the Hague made with oil pastel, for example, more adequately express the doom Schallenberg is heading to than all the text in the previous panels. These works have an almost autonomous quality underlining van Eeden’s unmistakable great talent.
[Image on top: Marcel van Eeden, From the series I am G.S.3, the killer of The Hague' (1949), 2014, 19 x 28 cm; Courtesy of the artist and GEM, The Hague]