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Don’t think too hard. Enjoy art. Outdoors.
by Andrea Alessi

At last it feels like summer in the Netherlands, and there’s no better time to get outside and visit ArtZuid, Amsterdam’s large-scale public sculpture route now in its final week of installation.

As I remarked about ArtZuid’s 2009 incarnation, the sculpture route puts on display the wide, tree-lined boulevards of this lovely south Amsterdam neighborhood as much as it does some fifty-eight curated sculptures. And this is not a bad thing – the exhibition is better if you try to enjoy the whole experience rather than attempt to do something silly like critique themes, chart trends, or worry about cohesiveness. Even the most quick-witted observers would be wise to succumb to the non-judgmental charms of these last weeks of the collective repose which characterizes the Dutch Summer.

I will note briefly that this year’s ArtZuid theme is the lazy and somewhat dated, “The World Around, Equality in Diversity,” manifested through the showcase of numerous international artists alongside the local mainstays. But forget about this diversity for diversity’s sake. I was impressed by the collection’s range well before learning the title, which only led to a bit of impatient nose crinkling and eye rolling on my part. (Is this still a thing? The international viewpoints are great and it’s wonderful to see artists we might not usually find in this context, but there’s always something irritating about the increased visibility of non-local perspectives at the expense of their otherness.)

Instead, enjoy the work for what it is: a selection of old friends (Dalí, Arp, Kusama, Rondinone) coupled with some new ones you probably want to get to know better, regardless of your critical or aesthetic position. Everyone will find something to enjoy, with the diversity shown in the artists’ birthplaces extending to all around sculptural diversity. Figurative works range from Rodin’s portrait of Balzac to Antony Gormley’s matrix-like Firmament III, which I’m not convinced anyone would know is a figure without reading the accompanying text.

Formally crafted abstractions like Atta Kwami’s Amsterdam Archways meet fanciful tales and histories like Ryan Gander’s The Happy Prince, based on a story by Oscar Wilde, and Ryas Komu’s My Father’s Balcony, a secret village of plurality observed only from a privileged position atop the artwork.

Some sculptures are serious, others are funny, and still others are cryptic or conceptual. Naturally, there are some highlights – Wim Delavoye’s ornate laser cut steel Catepillar set against the hard edged construction site of the Zuidas, and Shlomo Korèn’s series of minimalist liths, resting quietly amongst Minervalaan’s rows of trees, for example – as well as some dull moments. I decided to be less concerned about the latter. Why waste brainpower on something that is, at worst, a bit meh?

Perhaps my favorite part of ArtZuid 2011 was an encounter I had with a trio of local boys, aged about seven to eleven years old. Their parents were taking them along the route where the boys were drawing the sculptures they’d seen in brand new sketchbooks seemingly purchased specifically for the task. I met up with them at Dhiradj Ramsamoedj’s Mighty Man where they showed me some of their favorite drawings and told me which artworks they liked best (Jan Fabre’s shiny bronze man riding a gigantic turtle, Searching for Utopia, was a highlight for them, though I was equally impressed by their renditions of Dubuffet’s Tour Ballerine and Tinguely’s Heureka). ArtZuid isn’t demanding anyone be clever about it. It asks the public to enjoy art in whichever way it knows best – drawing, walking the dog, taking photos, looking at architecture, picnicking in the shadow of a giant sculpture, or studiously reading exhibition texts. ArtZuid 2011 might celebrate equality and diversity in art, but there is also variety in how we choose to look at art. Our approaches and rewards might vary, but our gratification is as great as we allow it to be.

~ Andrea Alessi, a writer living in the Netherlands.

(Images: Koen Vanmechelen, CosmoGolem; Wim Delavoye, Catepillar; Atta Kwami, Amsterdam Archways; Schlomo Koren, Hommage to the Architecture (series); Dhiradj Ramsamoedj, Mighty Man; Courtesy Andrea Alessi)

Posted by Andrea Alessi on 8/22/11 | tags: installation public-art sculpture mixed-media

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