The Amsterdam Art Weekend 2016, Part 2: The Institutions (some of them)
(Amsterdam.) The Amsterdam Art Weekend was not limited to commercial galleries. Even Manifesta hosted a show in their corporate headquarters. There was also a performance, but you needed to book your place in the audience about three years in advance. Which I didn’t. The opening, and that performance, took place on Saturday night. It was crowded. More crowded than any gallery on gallery night. So much crowded indeed, the art was hardly visible. It hardly mattered, they did not even care to label the works, or provide any information about it at all. The event was a get-together for friends and family with drinks, sandwiches, and some art on the side (yes, that’s true for most openings, but rarely this obvious). A heap of Manifesta 11 catalogues with a solidified liquid (plastic?) on top. A blue beanbag in form of a hand. A writing on the ceiling, in an archway: “Transitional body with full executive powers”. A room about, or against, Russia and Russian museums (conservative and misosoup, no: -genic, ah whatever). A tapestry. The blue of that bean bag looked almost IKB, there were also golden “webs”, and anthropometrie-style images (NSFW) in an office – at least one artist is a massive Yves Klein fan. Or was this in the end the curatorial idea? A radio show was broadcast from a backroom, you could have a look inside from the garden.
The cool guys are different, always, everywhere: only in Amsterdam artists outside the opening doors smoke nothing but tobacco.
I had spent the day on Museumsplein (“museum plains”). Too much time at hand, I entered a bourgeois villa and found myself in MOCO Museum with a show of Blek le rat, no: Banksy. MOCO Museum is a special type of museum. Owned by the dealer couple, it’s the oversized stockroom of Lionel Gallery. That’s not an important gallery, but a rich one. They offer second market pieces of big names, not because they are great artists – most of them are -, but because it’s fashionable, and easy to sell, interior design. Comparable galleries show prints of Chagal and Dali, Lionel Gallery prefers Warhol and Banksy. Those two are also at MOCO Museum.
It’s not a bad collection, with Banksy’s monkey saying “You can laugh now, but one day we’ll be in charge”, and other great slogans: “Lying to a Policeman is never wrong”. Many rats, many girls with balloons, all collected from streets and houses, or in numbered prints, and even a whole car/bombed SWAT Van. The world’s most famous street artist means big business, whether he likes it or not. He doesn’t. There is this one famous work at MOCO showing an auction room with the caption “I can’t believe you morons actually buy this shit”. In the museum shop they sell a Laugh Now print, 70x50 cm, unsigned, edition 200 for €15,000, and an edition of 1,000 for €1,950.
I have that mental image of the average customer; fur coat, Gucci handbag, more Botox than brains. Banksy is, officially, still anonymous. He does not seek the spotlight for himself. That’s very noble, and the opposite of what Andy Warhol stood for. At MOCO, he’s in the basement with royalties and Jackie, also a Marylin of his is compared to a same style Kate Moss of Banksy’s. To sum it up: MOCO Museum is a tourist trap, but you cannot possibly say a thing against the art.
Next stop: Stedelijk, Amsterdam’s biggest, best-known, contemporary art museum. Magali Reus shows fragile hobby horses that mean something else. Mohamed Bourouissa shows a sculpted horse, a film projected on steel panels, African dresses, and explains it all in another film: The artist organized a “pimp my ride” event in Philadelphia. Without cars, but with biological horse power clad in flashy clothes.
There’s so much more to see at Stedelijk, a design show, a presentation of the former director Willem Sandberg’s graphic skills, even a classic section with Kandinsky, Chagall, Delaunay, van Gogh, Cezanne, magnificent Malewitschs, Mondrian, and more. Upstairs, another master of the past is waiting. By turning machinery to art, Swiss Jean Tinguely proved, there is beauty in machinery, in nonsensical machinery at least. His creations move upon pushing a button without ever completing any task. To protect them, at Stedelijk, this would work only once every ten to twenty minutes, occasionally a countdown indicated the waiting time for a specific work, and there would be applause for the patron successfully setting it in motion. Tinguely’s Sisyphus machines, that move without advancing, work without producing, are a metaphor not only for art, but for life. They are impressive, beautiful, reassuring and a little sad maybe. Meaningless efforts celebrate the moment, like that one phallic flak/giant screw turning ceaselessly. Mechanics can be fun. Who will be the artist to create something not alike, but comparable, for the digital age? Is this even possible?
From unmoving assemblages and sculptures (Miro in 3D? Oil platforms or windmills?) of the 1950s to drawing machines, self-destructing installations – in film documents – to magnificent-absurd installations, fountains, and collaborations with other artists like Niki, it’s all at Stedelijk. Even the dark group of Mengele Totentanz, eerily squeaking in agony; dealing with art and history, tragedy and death. Shadows are an important factor in Jean Tinguely’s work, in one installation, objects and clothes paint the image of a hanged man on a wall, and suddenly, shockingly, shake by a ghostly, invisible, hand. Not only this, but even more so another work in the staircase - with dragons or -flies, one carrying away a baby doll - prepared for another show, of another artist, that would not open before ten in the evening. That was Jordan Wolfson, the most hyped artist of the whole Amsterdam Art Weekend. Don’t believe the hype.
You needed an extra invitation to get in before that time. Or you just strolled through the museum shop, and entered the opening reception from there, security didn’t mind. This helped me at least to one free wine and a hotdog, before at ten o’clock the bar was not closed, but opened the cash register.
Jordan Wolfson did a machine too, almost like Tinguely. His consists of four cranes holding, and twirling around, a lifesize ginger doll on three chains. All very much more monumental, and expensive, than Tinguely. The doll’s eyes are blue screens. Sometimes, there’s loud pop music. It’s tortured, hold on strings, whirled through existence, and only occasionally hovering in a moment of happiness. There are also framed works, and videos. One has an olfactory aspect to it: visitors are forced to leave their shoes outside the screening room, then sit down on the plush floor. As is so often the case: If an artist spends too much time and effort on the presentation of a video, there’s something wrong with that video. This one alternates between city scenes from NYC and Paris and a comic character in a drawn environment. Also a punk appears, and sometimes that comic character, and geometrical forms, invade the “real” (filmed) world. There’s music, again, and indeed it looks like a music video. If only there were a little more static in the carpet, the shoeless presentation would be good for something, and keep you awake.
Maybe the doll (supposed to hint at American icons from Huck Finn to Alfred E. Neumann, you learn from Stedelijk), and this comic character, and that punk are all alter egos of Jordan Wolfson himself. Maybe he’s a spoilt brat forcing his weltschmerz on the audience. Maybe modern life is hard, you’re pushed around, wandering the world, used by and using digital gadgets. To be honest: I don’t care. There is no depth, there is nothing particularly interesting here. It’s all surface and massive blingbling. Too much, and too few.
Otherwise, business as usual in Amsterdam. In one of the busiest shopping streets, a beggar spreads a line of something white on the pavement, and asks passers-by to sample. On the last day of Amsterdam Art Weekend, I managed the walk RLD-Museumsplein (almost) without getting lost. Only once, I took the tram. Amsterdam trains not only employ a driver, but also a guy in a glass booth at the back entrance to sell tickets. He refused to look at me, sneezing, dreaming, as I leaned forward to him. Thank you again for the free ride, friendly conductor. This won’t happen any more, once all trains are automatized, and his and the driver's job electrocuted.
Jean Tinguely, 1 October 2016-5 March 2017, Stedelijk Museum
Jordan Wolfson, 27 November 2016-23 April 2017 Stedelijk Museum
World of Arts Magazine – Contemporary Art Criticism