Amsterdam Roundup

Mariana Cánepa Luna

December 13, 2019
Various locations, Amsterdam 

Many cities have adopted the gallery weekend format, and while there is a risk that this proliferation can lead to homogeneity, the particular strength and energy of Amsterdam Art Weekend lies in its steadfast commitment to art and artists, and to not limiting its remit to the commercial sector. Now in its eighth edition, the event grew out of the Rijksakademie Open, the yearly open studio presentations by the forty-plus artists in the institution’s two-year postgraduate residency program. The ticketed event grows in scale and ambition each year, showcasing an energizing range of practices throughout the spaces of a former barracks. This year, the studio presentations—with stand-outs by Shahidul Zaman, Salim Bayri, Catalina González, Arturo Kameya, and Özgür Atlagan—were supplemented by additional sound, film, and performance programing.

One of the weekend’s main events was the opening of “The Factory” at the Stedelijk Museum, the first European retrospective dedicated to Mexican artist Carlos Amorales, who graduated from the Rijksakademie in the 1990s. Amorales’s diverse practice, which is rooted in drawing and writing, extends over 14 galleries. The exhibition includes well-traveled works such as Black Cloud (2007), in which black paper moths infest gallery spaces, and two new works from 2019. In Orgy of Narcissus, developed in collaboration with Tilburg’s TextielMuseum, fantastical stitched-silk silhouettes repeat ad infinitum, while the mural Aprende a joderte [Learn to Fuck Yourself] is inspired by medieval codices interweaving insults in Spanish and English.

Another stimulating annual event is the program of the Oude Kerk, a church in the heart of the city’s Red-light District that was consecrated 713 years ago. This year it hosted “Poems for Earthlings” by Argentinian artist Adrián Villar Rojas. One of the most ambitious site-specific installations staged in the venue to date, Villar Rojas has surrounded its Gothic columns, oak choir stalls, and side doors with thousands of sandbags; blocked its large stained-glass windows with mattresses and beams; and lowered its chandeliers to the floor, where they sit in wooden trusses and are fitted with lit candles. The impression is of entering a time-capsule of past wars and conflicts, in which historically significant buildings and monuments were shielded from bombing and flooding—catastrophes present throughout much of Dutch history and, by implication, its future. The installation provides a haunting setting for the artist’s first audio piece: an eight-hour gathering of disparate sounds including the Big Bang, chimpanzees, parrots interacting with human voices, and pop songs, intended as a speculative soundscape history of humankind.

Nearby, the nonprofit space rongwrong presented an exhibition by Lebanese artists Charbel-joseph H. Boutros and Stéphanie Saadé. “When two artists meet” is an intimate conversation between new and old objects loaded with personal narratives. Saadé’s Building a Home with Time (2019) is a necklace composed of 2832 wooden beads, the number corresponding to the days between the artist’s birth and the end of the Lebanese Civil War. Boutros’s Under the Shadows of Your Fingers (2019) features a beige carpet that hides a pair of high heels, while a laptop shows a video of a woman’s hands retyping a first love letter written years earlier by the artist’s partner.

Departing from this entanglement of collaborative impulses, Kunstverein’s exhibition “Who’s Werner?” touches on the issue of ghost authorship and the variable degrees of accreditation of collaborative creation. The exhibition draws attention to behind-the-scenes figures, such as fabricators, technicians, collaborators, and producers. Among them is craftsman Simon Harlow, who has produced numerous sculptures for artist Lucy Skaer, including Margin and Faces (2015), a slab of Mahogany leaning against the wall. “The harmony of working with Simon allows me to be at my best,” Skaer says in the exhibition booklet, “some work is made better by his judgement.” Other inclusions expose gender invisibilities, such as three photographs of Las Vegas’s iconic urban landscape by architect Denise Scott Brown. The latter’s interest in vernacular architecture prompted her partner, Robert Venturi, to co-write Learning from Las Vegas (1972), yet despite being acknowledged as a co-author, alongside their assistant Steven Izenorus, Scott Brown struggled for recognition in her own right.

Questions of endorsement and invisibility are also at the core of Patricia Kaersenhout’s solo exhibition “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner Too?” at De Appel, which takes as its point of departure Judy Chicago’s pioneering feminist work The Dinner Party (1974–79) and its homage to (mostly Western) women from history and mythology. Located in the Aula, a listed glass-walled concert hall in the Broedplaats Lely building that has been home to De Appel’s since 2017, Kaersenhout’s collaboratively realized work extends Chicago’s gesture by honoring the legacies of leading female activists and freedom fighters who have resisted slavery, racism, sexism, and colonialism across generations and geographies. The impact of modernity, a force inextricable from colonialism, is the focus of “Revolutions, like trees, are recognized by their fruits,” Peruvian artist Claudia Martínez Garay’s solo show at GRIMM gallery. Indigenous plants, fruits, and vegetables take the form of large cut-out sculptures of corn cobs, potatoes, and cacti, while bold graphic shapes and striking colors on the gallery floor and walls are intermixed with diminutive scenes of rural life made in clay.

A few weeks earlier, British artist Rory Pilgrim, an alumni of the studio program De Ateliers, was announced as the winner of this year’s Prix de Rome visual arts prize. His compelling 52-minute film The Undercurrent (2019–ongoing), included in the prize exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, explores his work’s themes of emancipation, belonging, and care. This intimate collective portrait of a group of young climate activists from Boise, Idaho, intermingles a lush orchestral score composed by the artist with diaristic individual and group confessionals revealing their insecurities and shared hopes, as well as expansive drone footage of urban and rural landscapes. In one scene, the group screams into the landscape, “we need our government to fucking listen, to fucking listen, don’t destroy our hope!” Their electrifying plea for urgent collective action could also apply to art. From the mentorship offered by rigorous studio programs such as the Rijksakademie’s to Villar Rojas’s safeguarding gestures, and from Pilgrim’s call for collective care to the hosting of faraway stories by spaces like rongwrong, the Amsterdam Art Weekend shows that solidarity is crucial to art’s social nutrition.

Labor & Work, Colonialism & Imperialism, Feminism
Collaboration, Community

Mariana Cánepa Luna co-directs the Barcelona-based curatorial office Latitudes.

RSVP for Amsterdam Roundup
Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten  / Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam  / Oude Kerk  / rongwrong  / Kunstverein  / De Appel  / GRIMM  / Amsterdam Art Weekend
December 13, 2019

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