Monday, March 15, 2010

Amsterdam Part 3 - Alternative Spaces

Though the historical art of the Rijks and Van Gogh Museums house some of the most prolific works the Netherlands has to offer, what makes Amsterdam's art scene thrive is its new galleries and alternative spaces, housing works by international contemporary artists.

One of the most interesting places I visited was an "Alternative Space" called W139. Its a large warehouse-like room, with incredibly tall ceilings and plenty of bare walls; a space devoted to the production and presentation of Contemporary Art since 1979. On an annual basis, this alternative spaces hold 8-9 exhibitions each year, always opening on Friday nights at 9pm. or in truth, whatever the artists and directors will. The space is open for all forms of interpretation and all art forms to participate.
The in-process exhibition Doktor Faustus (February 1 - April 2 [opening night]) was large murals by various artists based on the novel of the same name, "Doktor Faustus" by Thomas Mann. This rather complex book, written in 1947, encapsulates the Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverk├╝hn as told from a friend. It is, in essence, a retelling of the classic German tale of Faust (Faustus), a man who makes a deal with the devil for his soul in exchange for knowledge.

"The hero of the novel, Leverk├╝hn, is an usually prideful, distant and gifted individual, far too clever for the arts, but who nonetheless fulfills a creative urge and with this, requires unrestraint which, in the idealized framework of the book, can be delivered only by evil. From a more political perspective, his demise mirrors the intoxication of the people by Fascism"
- Thomas Mann (in a letter to Albert Oppenheimer)

In truth, one could call the entire gallery a singular work of art; a giant floor to ceiling collaboration of artists "who transcend the obligatory reference to a shared theme and the endeavor to vanquish the wondrous fear of illustration that has held the visual arts captive for over a century". Being an Illustrator, naturally I slightly scoffed at this final remark, by curator Gijs Frieling. However, the works were quite powerful, intriguing and the overall impression of these tall, imposing walls was such that I could think of nothing but to give my full admiration to the works.

(promotional poster for Alternative Space)

Contributing Artists:
  • Axel Linderholm
  • Charlotte Schleiffert
  • Dick Tuinder
  • Gijs Assmann
  • Gijs Freiling
  • Joris Lindhout
  • Menso Groeneveld
  • Natasja Kensmil
  • Paul Klemann
The exhibition and works were so interesting, that I will be ordering an english translation of the book to read.
Until we meet again

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Amsterdam Part 2 - Van Gogh Museum

This is, quite possibly, my favorite museum. With its rather modern and austere architecture, it houses some of the best in the Impressionist and Post-Impressionist movement. This was quite a thrill to experience, though I am sad to report that "Starry Night" was not on display.
However, some classic Van Gogh's were present, as well as the small exhibition Masters from the Museum Mesdag and Painting in the Open Air: Myth and Reality. The Paul Gauguin exhibition was sadly, not open yet.

Here are some selections from Van Gogh Museum that really connected with me:

Anton Mauve
(these paintings was not at the museum, but I could not find images of the pieces I saw in person)
While visiting the museum, I discovered a new favorite artist, who wields a great infuence on my work. Anton Mauve (1838-1888) was a Dutch realist painter and the prominent figure in the Hague School. Vincent Van Gogh worked under his guidance for a short period of time until they had a falling out. In stark contrast to Van Gogh's style, it is no wonder that Mauve felt that Van Gogh should pursue more traditional and realistic drawings and painting techniques.

Vincent Van Gogh
And of course, the star of the museum is none other than Vincent Van Gogh. Upon seeing these works, my reaction was much like the one I had towards Rembrandt's at the Rijks; I don't think I ever really understood Van Gogh until this very moment. Van Gogh's work has always been a great inspiration to me. His work is so intriguing, and though the term "timeless" seems so cliche, it is truly fitting for his style. The pieces I saw truly stand the test of time; they could hang in any contemporary gallery, with the prominent artists of today and still look fresh, innovative and new.

I was, however disappointed with his color, particularly in his earlier work. The colors are incredibly dull, muddied and impure. But this does, however, really give them a mood and atmosphere appropriate of the time and of Europe's cold, cloudy environment.

Particular pieces that really caught my eye:

Vincent Van Gogh
"Almond Tree in Blossom" 1888 (Arles)
This work really inspires me; in its quiet simplicity and elegance it stands out as being quite contemporary. Each mark feels deliberate and well orchestrated. Though the value is rathe shallow, Van Gogh (as always) utilizes color and texture to denote the subject's volume an spatial relativity. The composition is rather stark and the placement of the tree and cropping makes for an incredibly strong image. Of course, it reflects Van Gogh's infatuation for Japanese woodblock prints, a rather popular source of inspiration for artists of the time period.

Van Gogh
"The Bridge in the Rain (after Hiroshige)" 1887 (Paris)
Naturally, this piece is a direct and deliberate attempt to capture the essence and style of Japanese woodblock prints, and specifically the prolific works of Hiroshige. Though this is oil on canvas, Van Gogh successfully created flat planes of color to mimic that of a wooblock, as well as incorporating line and border details. This piece really sticks out among the rest of Van Gogh's work.

"Bridge in the Rain" 1800's
(for comparison)
Vincent Van Gogh
"The Langlois Bridge" 1888
The composition & use of outline is what struck me the strongest about this Van Gogh piece. The color is soft and muted (but not so much like his earlier muddied up works). This painting gives a feeling being a sketch; something so effortless it feels like a thought or a memory, as opposed to being a painting. The single most important part are the silhouetted figures on the bridge; the entire composition relies on these 3 dark points, balancing out the shadow below the small boat and bringing the eye down the path along to water to the focal point.

Van Gogh
"Self Portrait" 1886 (Paris)
Though this is not the stereotypical Van Gogh portrait, I thoroughly enjoy is sensitivity and level of realism. It is very much a reflection of Van Gogh's training with the Hague School master, Anton Mauve. Though again, the color lacks a level of purity and richness that can be found in his earlier works.

Also on display was a exhibition called "Meesters Uit Museum Mesdag", showcasing works from the Hague School Masters. Artists showcased were:
  • Charles Rochussen (watercolors)
  • Mose de Giusseppe Bianchi
  • Jacob Morris
  • Johannes Bosboom
  • Anton Mauve
  • Hein Haverman
  • Giovanni Segantini
  • J.H. Weissenbruch
  • Charles Daubigny
  • Jean-Francois Millet
  • Antonio Mancini
  • Willem Vaarzonmorel
  • Marius Bauer
  • Emile breton
  • Gustave Courbet
  • Hendrik Willem Mesdag
  • Jan Veth
  • Barbara Van Houten
  • Pieter de Josselin de Jong
  • Emile Bernard
  • Odilon Redon
Until Next Time,

Amsterdam Part 1 - Rijks Museum

A trip so extensive, it cant be contained in one post. Dannielle, our friend Ines, and I spent 3 days in the city and had the best time. Staying at a small, and rather dreary hostel, naturally we spent the majority of our time out and about. We were able to visit the 2 main museums, the Rijks Museum and the Van Gogh Museum, as well as about 6-7 galleries throughout the Art District (as well as the Anne Frank House).

The Rijks Museum was a really incredible experience. I got to see so much prolific work, only ever viewed in my art history textbook. Here are a few of my personal favorites:

Willem Van de Velde I (the elder)
Battle of Livorne (1655)
Ink on Canvas 114 x 160 cm

This piece is completely overwhelming. A large canvas done only with ink, pen nib and washes, it is truly a masterpiece. The line work is so unbelievably thin, almost as it it were a large etching. The true mastery of this medium is thoroughly awe-inspiring and meticulous that I draw immense amounts of inspiration from such work.
A little history: Willem Van de Velde the Elder (1611-1693) was a Dutch artist, a marine draughtsman and painter. He worked for the official artist for the Dutch fleet for many years, making sketches of epic battles to be interpreted for newspapers, large scale work, and above all, posterity (truly, an early illustration pioneer). His son, Willem the Younger was also a prolific marine painter.

Gerard de Lairesse
"The Allegory of Sciences" (1965-83)
oil on canvas 289 x 161cm

This painting struck me at the sheer mastery of the subject. Gerard de Lairesse was commissioned by Filips de Flines, a wealthy businessman who purchased a home in Amsterdam. Lairesse completed 5 imitation bas-relief sculpture paintings for the De Flines house, starting in 1675. This painting represents the Allegory of Sciences; the Liberal Arts are gathered around Pallas Athena's feet. Each one of the allegory paintings represent Charity, Wealth, Fame, The Arts, and Science; the epitome of high society in the Nederlands.
The rendering of statues is so remarkable, a truly challenging subject. I was really taken aback by the size and believability of the piece, that I felt it necessary to share. In terms of Art History, this is a classic example the return of Classical reverence and style.

Frans Hals
"The Merry Drinker" (1628-30)
Oil on Canvas 81 x 66.5 cm

Frans Hals, always a favorite. It was so wonderful to finally see this piece in person. His brushwork is his trademark; something so light and effortless about the strokes, but its the right hue, right value, and right mark in the right place, always. (though it took him many years to complete, and I am sure, upon close inspection many layers to try and find that "right mark")

Rembrandt Harmensz van Rijn
"The Company of Frans Banning Cocq and Willem van Ruytenburch"
"The Night Watch" (1642)
Oil on Canvas 363 x 437cm

Again, a prolific piece I feel so honored to have finally seen. It was interesting to note, and compare the final piece to the smaller study (hanging next to it) showing the composition in its original entirety, prior to 1715. In 1715, the painting was moved to the Amsterdam Town Hall, the painting was cropped down on all 4 sides, to fit between two columns. Its really a great loss to the painting, for it detracts from the movement Rembrandt was trying to evoke (from right to left). Also interesting to note, the painting was once covered in a dark varnish, giving the impression of a night scene, however in the 1940's the varnish was removed to reveal the true luminosity underneath. I had no real idea about Rembrandt's impasto technique either, until seeing the paintings in real life. This thick texture is just as important as the composition, and lighting of Rembrandt's pantings, and something only noted when breathing the air around it. Its like viewing a sacred relic for an artist, to be introduced to something you've talked about your whole life, and finally getting to see it in person.

These were just a mere few highlights from the museum.
Other artists that caught my eye:
  • Bartholomeus van der Helst
  • Dirck van Delen
  • Jan de Baen
  • Adriaen Pietersz van de Venne
  • Adam Willarerts
  • Johannes Torrentius
  • Gerard van Honthorst
  • Caesar Boetius van Everdingen
  • Jan Asselijn
  • Johannes Vermeer
  • Pieter de Hooch
  • Willem van Aelst
  • Gerard der Borch
  • Cornelis Pietersz Bega
  • Jan de Visscher
  • Barent Gail
  • Cornelis Dusant
  • Jan van Somer
All in all, a very epic journey. However this hardly scratches the surface on all of the art and culture we soaked up. Stay tuned for Part 2 of Amsterdam!