The first time I saw an artwork by Jan van der Ploeg was probably in one of the corridors of Galerie West, in Den Haag. To be honest it was the remaining part of a wall painting the Amsterdam-born painter made in 2011 (as this video documents) and I didn't even know it was an artwork at all; it was still there but all the rooms in the gallery were hosting work by another artist. Truth is, wall painting benefits from isolation and emptiness to be properly acknowledged, and Van der Ploeg's style makes it even more important to have some kind of buffer space, that allows the viewer to zoom in and out at his or her own pace.
Especially now, NASA is the right venue to host the artist's recently extended solo show Pink Moon – Organising Principles. Those who have been following this lively exhibition space for the past few years (shows included Pierre Bismuth, Nathaniel Mellors, and Chto Delat) are probably aware that the financial difficulties that already forced the organization to restructure before – changing its name from SMART Project Space and joining NIMk to save the media art institution from extinction – are far from gone, and that the future is uncertain. Visiting the Jan van der Ploeg solo show compiles nostalgia, and wandering across the vacant rooms can't help but bring to mind the possibility that those wall paintings might be here after the show is over, and perhaps even after NASA.
Jan van der Ploeg, WALL PAINTING No.359, ‘Black Flag’, 2013, acrylic on wall, 368 x 1325 cm, installation view at Pink Moon – Organising Principles, New Art Space Amsterdam; Courtesy of the artist and New Art Space Amsterdam; Photo: Niels Vis.
Nevertheless, this hopefully temporary vacancy is a good condition for taking in the painter's work. There is something elementary about Jan van der Ploeg's art, and by that I don't mean his pieces are necessarily easy. Rather, by combining optical painting and site-specific installation, they aim at the core of perception. The Dutch artist plays with geometry and permutation, but unlike masters of wall painting like Sol LeWitt, he doesn't set mathematical parameters to cover surfaces, or at least the result never looks like that. As much as his wall pieces deal with architecture, they still retain a painterly quality rooted in attention to color and contrast and a playful use of rhythm that can be used in public commissions (and thus inviting a more casual use) but at the same time can give way to a contemplative exploration. Coupled with his architectural-savvy, Van der Ploeg's taste for color and focus on painting make him as Dutch as can be.
Jan van der Ploeg, WALL PAINTING No.360, ‘GRIP’, 2013, acrylic on wall, 448 x 4370 cm, installation view at Pink Moon – Organising Principles, New Art Space Amsterdam; Courtesy of the artist and New Art Space Amsterdam; Photo: Niels Vis.
Room by room, Pink Moon encourages different viewer approaches to its fully-painted walls. Sometimes it's best to stare at the intersection of two rhombuses and move around, watching the figures stretch and grow as the perspective changes; in another occasion the focus should be kept on a single color to see how the field is affected by the others. In the last room, getting closer to the fluorescent, pulsating pink paint for a few seconds and then turning to a white surface will make the latter look green. If the wall pieces represent the only art on show, the rooms are occupied by the rediscovery of a gallery space free of objects. Using the word “interactive” would be too much, since you can only get close and walk away, but the resulting experience is far from two-dimensional. A considerable achievement for a painter.
(Image on top: Jan van der Ploeg, WALL PAINTING, ‘Untitled’ , 2013, acrylic on wall, installation view; Courtesy of the artist and New Art Space Amsterdam; Photo: Niels Vis.)
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