When I hopped on the train from Amsterdam to Rotterdam yesterday, I promised myself I'd try and go to as many off events as I could. Thing is, I get anxious when I have to report on fairs per se. You need to make smart comments on who's hot and who's not, and to do so you need market notions and gallery knowledge beyond my personal capability and interest. To me, fairs are in essence all the same: they absorb the thrill of a day trip into hours of walking and standing in what is possibly the most standardized space of all, the expo pavilion. Fake walls parcel out a blur of cognitive and manual production into units of interest, more or less familiar names that expand in clusters of more names, more bios, more data. The omnipresent Illy coffee cup, though, usually helps me get through it.
In terms of artwork, the general picture at Art Rotterdam this year was quite predictable. Lots of minimalism and abstract photocompositions, of which my personal highlight would be Berliner Ingo Mittelstaedt, represented by Galerie koal. Photographic abstractions and raw media aesthetics were also the case with Gallery Marion Scharmann, from Köln, and London-based Rod Barton. Urban imagery and buildings were present in various forms: the Rotterdam-based Cokkie Snoei is a good example, with Pim Palsgraaf’s eye-catching Mycose City sculptures and Marjan Teeuwen's building sections. Marlon de Azambuja's collages (presented at Furini Arte Contemporanea, Rome) were also worthy of notice.
Of miscellaneous interest were the paintings at Berlin's Peres Projects and the wood-painted installations by Vicky Wright at Josh Lilley (London). Another definite highlight was Norman Leto's Lifeshape pieces, presented by the Polish Kolonie Gallery: a series of 3D models/sculptures representing the biography of a famous person, pictured with a short bio. I also liked the works shown at Meessen de Clercq (Brussels) and Office Baroque Gallery (Antwerp), just to mention a couple of the many Belgian galleries. Among the local presenters I particularly enjoyed the smartly minimal Rumiko Hagiwara show at Jeanine Hofland (Amsterdam).
Jeroen Jongeleen, no style, 2011; Courtesy Upstream Gallery / Photo by Nicola Bozzi
With few exceptions, politics were kept to a low. There was Illy-prize nominee Oscar Murillo, represented by Carlos/Ishikawa (London), who showcased a series of black and white prints bluntly stating “Animals die for eating too much” and soccer balls that sat next to concrete replicas of themselves (perhaps a reference to child-labor and globalization). Another example is Amsterdam-based Upstream Gallery's Jeroen Jongeleen, whose token institutional critique regarding public funding for the arts was spray painted onto conveniently polished wooden planks. Considering Jongeleen is taking part in a market-oriented initiative, I guess his (probably ironic) remarks have some kind of consistency – despite unquestionably falling under the category of “art against art.”
Oscar Murillo, installation; Courtesy carlos-ishikawa / Photo by Nicola Bozzi
Compared to last year, I found the fair more international (read: more like Art Amsterdam), with significant participation not only from Belgium and Germany, but also a growing representation of French, Italian, and English galleries. The atmosphere felt lazier than the previous edition, and perhaps the partially frozen Maas, flowing sluggishly past the venue, is a good metaphor of the general mood. I also got a way thinner press kit, with no catalogue, which may or may not suggest that either I was a late-comer or the fair is trying to tighten its belt.
directions to RAW; Photo by Nicola Bozzi
Outside the main event, I got my share of alternative ones as well. I only gave Object Rotterdam a quick look, but RAW felt quite refreshing. Following spray-painted directions across the Wilhelminapier area, one found the pavilion dramatically located on the other side of the Maas, where an older and more industrial architecture seemed to look daggers at the fancier, sushi-equipped Art Rotterdam headquarters. If you've read my preview piece, you’ll know I was a bit skeptical about the “completely revisited” exhibition experience they were advertising. Once I got inside, however, I have to admit the atmosphere was way better. I was welcomed by a huge dimly-lit cyberpunk lounge, with plastic containers lit up in different colors, a bar, a sushi stand, a restaurant, lots of puffs, chairs, and several imaginative hangout solutions to give the industrial look of the place an unexpectedly cozy and tasteful feel. The hall’s interior design was raw with rave appeal, but it was anything but sloppy. The actual fair wasn't all that different from the regular one, except for its distinctly more pop and street-artsy selection of artworks. The digital paintings of anime characters and photographic reports of urban subcultures, logo-busting, and nicknames were in line with my expectations (even though the prices were easily reaching €2000-6000). Along with the very low-brow-oriented St Art Gallery, Meneer Malasch, and the Zuidas-based LookForArt, the fair featured more traditional galleries like the Jordaan's Witzenhausen and Bart, that somehow didn't look out of place even in the clutter of manga and robots.
I didn't manage to see the sculpture expo upstairs because I was already on my way to Boompjes 60-68, home to the Re:Rotterdam pop-up show. I wandered through the installations in the building’s many office spaces and even managed to bump into a performance on the 3rd floor, but honestly I was pretty bored and decided to inspect several offices converted to small and functional exhibition spaces. All sorts of pieces were on show, many enjoyable and a few memorable. Among the ones I remember were another Pim Palsgraaf sculpture (courtesy of Cokkie Snoei), an accurate yet fictional entomological archive by Jeroen Kuster, and Hester Scheurwater's insistent photographic vaginal displays.
At the end of the day, I felt the quality of the side events was pretty high, and the display better thought-out and presented than I had first expected. Along with the art, this was achieved by the venues themselves and the diversity of the common areas, which at Art Rotterdam always feel a bit tight and claustrophobic. I guess, overall, the dialectic relationship between the fair and its satellites, still close enough to make it feel like one single experience, was the element that I enjoyed the most. Hopefully, in the next years, this contrast/collaboration will develop and evolve further.
(top image: General view of Peres Projects Berlin stand at Art Rotterdam, photo by Nicola Bozzi.)