ArtZuid: Berlage in Beeld is a public sculpture exhibition currently installed in Amsterdam’s Zuidzijd neighborhood until October 26th. It is as much a showcase of architect Hendrik P. Berlage’s neighborhood planning as it is an urban sculpture garden. Positioned along the T-shaped axis of Apollolaan and Minervalaan’s residential promenades, ArtZuid is bringing curious visitors to this quiet, canal-lined district a short walk south of Amsterdam’s center.
The international selection of over 40 works spans a wide range of styles, time periods, and significance. Rodin’s The Thinker is the oldest and no doubt most recognizable sculpture, followed by a late open-form Zadkine bronze. Also represented are high profile international artists including Franz West, Yoshimoto Nara, and Paul McCarthy. Sculptures by mid-career and established Dutch artists range from modern non-figurative works by Andrè Volten to dark and humorous contemporary installations by Florentijn Hofman and Joep van Lieshout.
Architect Roberto Meyer and artist Michiel Romeyn, ArtZuid’s curators, have put together a show that reverses the traditional relationship between foreground and background. Indeed, the title Berlage in Beeld (“Modeled on Berlage”) suggests the setting is at least as important as the artwork. Their selection is neither thematic nor art historical; the sculptures are seemingly unified only in their diversity and their ability to relate to Berlage’s tree-lined boulevards.
One of my favorite works from the show exemplifies this position. Jasper Niens’s Block is a large plywood fence that squares off a section of Minervalaan. Four closed doors open into an ambiguous, secluded space. Is it a construction site or a shrine? The quiet interior includes an interrupted path and four park benches. By isolating a section of the park, the installation objectifies its surroundings, making the public private and encouraging viewers to consider this distilled environment.
Another sculpture cum environment is Joep van Lieshout’s shocking BikiniBar. This sinister sculpture/building is a decapitated and limbless, bikini-clad body, reminiscent of Duchamp’s nude figure in Étant donnés. As in Étant donnés the work requires the voyeuristic (and in this case invasive) participation of the viewer who enters the sculpture through a door in her bloody leg. Inside is a poorly furnished “bar” with a bench and a dartboard. Grim accompanying text states: “BikiniBar is the only female body you can enter without permission”. My male companions were thoroughly disturbed by Lieshout’s work, but I found it to be a witty addition to a generally innocuous collection of sculpture.
Though not entirely coherent, the curators’ selection includes some impressive works by a diverse group of artists. There is truly something for everyone here. Additionally, an interesting effect of ArtZuid seems to be its revitalization of the neighborhood’s more permanent public art. Indeed I saw many visitors carefully inspecting bronzes that were not officially part of the program. In the end I spent a very pleasant afternoon wandering the grand avenues of Amsterdam Zuid, learning about Berlage and exploring an area I had not visited before. And it seems to me that, above all, this discovery of space was the exhibition’s intent.
(Images: Courtesy Artzuid)