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From Eagle to Angel part 5: How To Find Angels In The Land Of Eagles

May 3rd, 2016 by Willem Jan Renders

Poster for the film Albania, 1953

The man from security at the airport called my suitcase “a busy bag”. I always travel with a lot of wires and plugs for my computer, my camera, my phone, my shaver, my external hard drive etc., so my luggage is often checked. My busy bag is small this time and packed for a few days in Tirana (AMS-VIE, VIE-TIA and you’re there) where there’s a conference titled ‘The Art of the Socialist Period between Contempt, Fetishism and Transition’. It is organized (and very well organized) by Tirana Art Lab (http://www.tiranaartlab.org/) and I am one of the speakers. The conference takes place in the National Museum of History and on arriving the fronton of the building makes it clear that this is the right place to discuss the cultural heritage of the former East bloc.

Fronton of the National Museum of History in Tirana, 1981

It promises to be an interesting lecture program with colleagues from many former East bloc countries discussing different projects that deal with the socialist cultural heritage. I am the only person from the former West. My lecture will be about three exhibitions in our museum: Lissitzky – Kabakov (2013), RED! (opening in our library on the first of May) and NSK (opened two weeks ago). I will analyse and compare the narratives of these exhibitions and point to some contempt in Lissitzky – Kabakov, a little fetishism in RED! and maybe some transition in NSK.

Conference poster Tirana

The lectures of the conference will be published, so you can read all about the subject in due time. Monuments from the Stalin era in the former East bloc, portraits of shock workers, photos of huge steel plants in decay, the development of former Yugoslavia, all in all too much to tell you about here. Please wait for the book. My lecture went well and there were some interesting questions afterwards. To celebrate we had a nice dinner in a good fish restaurant and after a few raki (which is not ouzo here but grappa) a female colleague (no, we do not mention names) and I decided to climb the Pyramid (1988). This building was formerly known as the Enver Hoxha Museum (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pyramid_of_Tirana) and thus one of the most controversial buildings in the city: an expression of the power and control of the totalitarian state.

The Pyramid (1988) by day

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But I am glad they did not demolish this building. Not only is this a monument to remember an era of Albanian history, but this construction has its nice aspects too: it has no stairs but you can climb the steep walls on hands and feet and enjoy the view over the city on top afterwards. This monument was not intended by the architect to be climbed upon; originally it was clad with marble. But I suddenly saw the symbolic value of sitting on top of a monument to a dictator and, overconfident by the raki, thought it was a piece of cake, a walk in the park. It was already midnight but the streets of Tirana around the Pyramid were still crowded on this warm Saturday night. My colleague was a good climber and she went up steadily but my shoes were too slippery and halfway I slid some five meters down, got my grip again and then slowly but certainly climbed up. Out of breath I arrived on the top where we sat down, looked over the city and talked for a long time.

Vilson Kilica, Proclamation of the Republic, no date (Albania became a republic in 1912 but the scene depicted seems later)

Now, the day after, it’s a lazy Sunday afternoon. The work is done and I have some time to see the city. It’s the first of May and there is a small group of people with red flags walking down the road. Their slogans are the weak echo of a past era of big parades and festivities on this day. It’s already quite warm and there’s going to be rain this afternoon. You can see the clouds arriving over the mountains in the background of the low skyline of Tirana. Families are strolling along the broad boulevards, carefully avoiding looking at the begging gypsies along the side. I walk to the National Gallery of Art because I heard that there are some good socialist realist paintings there. That proves to be no exaggeration.

Vilson Halimi, Everywhere we are at the forefront, 1976

In the evening I meet with Romeo Kodra from Tirana Art Lab and together we go to a small restaurant in the old part of Tirana. There is only one room with three tables. And again – like in the other restaurants we went to – they cook the most fantastic food here. In the salads the tomatoes taste like tomatoes and the cucumbers like cucumbers. (I can tell the difference because I grow them myself) In this restaurant they serve the most delicious vegetable dishes prepared in exactly the way I like it: well done and without any unnecessary additions. We eat filled eggplant, white beans, wild spinach and even nettles. Advised by Romeo I start with a light green raki made from a fruit I do not know and with the lamb I drink Albanian red wine. Romeo tells me tirelessly about the history of Albania, the development of Tirana, the current political situation and the state of the arts here. With his stories and anecdotes he opens up a new country for me and makes me want to see more of it. Such a turbulent history and nevertheless all religions live here in peace. Someone told me that everyone here agrees that being Albanian is more important than your religion. If only this thought would spread a little further! At the end of the meal we agree that the food will be easier to digest than all the information.

Constantine and Athanas Zografi, Meeting of the Archangels, 1786, tempera on wood, 105 x 67 cm.‬‬‬‬

Back in the National Museum of History for a visit the next day I find my angels in an icon: ‘Meeting of the Archangels’ by Constantine and Athanas Zografi. The two archangels in front show the aura of the universe with the image of an angel who holds the Gospel in his hand. In it we read: “O Ω N” meaning “The One That Is”. But there is something strange about this icon. First of all there are quite a lot of archangels here. Depending on the religion you have two angels (protestant), three (catholic and islam), seven (Greek orthodox) or even ten (in the Kabbalah) but here I count eight and one in the centre. Clearly this icon is Greek orthodox. I wonder why these painters depicted nine archangels. But then I discover something stranger: some of these archangels have things coming out of their ears! They look like silver hearing devices and I don’t know what to make of them. Suggestions anyone?

Ear of an Archangel with ‘earplug’

Before leaving I want to see the market in Tirana. In every city I go I want to see the market if I have time. I like the smell of food markets: the herbs and vegetables, the fish and meat. I like to see what food people can buy and what it costs. I almost forgot the time and quickly passing by to the hotel I discover an entire street with bicycle shops. No time to waste anymore, no time to look at fresh vegetables or angels; I have to fly.  Looking at the distant mountains in the taxi to the airport I promise myself to go here again.

 

TIA-VIE, VIE-AMS went not so smoothly. The plane from Tirana arrived too late in Vienna so I had to hurry to catch my connection, but everyone had to re-enter the Schengen zone (there are invisible borders everywhere) and that means cueing up for passport control and after that for the inevitable security check. So I arrived five minutes too late at the gate just to see the plane slowly taxiing away. Luckily there was another plane a few hours later and I had some time to eat and write some of the above to you about Angels and Eagles. And it is to be continued.

 

 

 

From Eagle to Angel part 4: I saw the Angel of History

April 6th, 2016 by Willem Jan Renders

Together with my colleague Angela Lampe from Centre Pompidou I am working on the ‘Chagall, Lissitzky, Malevich’ exhibition that will open in March 2018 in Paris. Angela has just finished an exhibition on the oeuvre of Paul Klee and I was able to visit it last Sunday, one day before the opening. The exhibition is in Galerie 2 (1000 m2) of the Centre Pompidou and this is also the space that is intended for our future exhibition. To me it is still an incredible idea that within two years our exhibition will open here…

Just opened in Centre Pompidou:
Paul Klee – L’ironie à l’oeuvre

But now to Paul Klee. I should start by saying that I never liked his work. All those clouds of coloured points and those sensibly curved lines. Somehow it was all too delicate, too esoteric and too fine for me. But walking in this exhibition I see a lot of works I did not know and I discover a whole new artist. In a lot of his works this artist is a sensitive and nervous thermometer of his time. Am I becoming milder as I grow older? I never liked dahlias and now I find some of them very beautiful. Is the same happening with Klee?

Ernst Kallai, Caricature of Klee as Buddha, 1929
collection Bauhaus-Archiv, Berlin

Here I will concentrate on only one work in this comprehensive exhibition. I chose it for this blog because it fits in my previous quest for angels. I did not forget that I still have to report on the Kabakov angels I saw in Long Island, but I will do that later. Klee’s angel comes first.

Paul Klee, Angelus novus, 1920
collection Israel Museum, Jerusalem

This work was once in the collection of the philosopher Walter Benjamin. He had two works by Klee: one work, Presentation of the Miracle, he got from his wife and another one, Angelus novus, he bought himself in 1921. Now it is this Angelus novus that would become the famous Angel of History that Benjamin describes in his Theses on the Concept of History, written while fleeing from the Germans in 1940 and just before his suicide. For Benjamin this angel was not the traditional figure of salvation and redemption. He saw in it a personification of history, an allegorical figure showing us how history works and how it progresses.

Benjamin describes this Angel in his ninth thesis on the concept of history in the following way:

IX

My wing is ready for flight,

I would like to turn back.

If I stayed timeless time,

I would have little luck.

Gerhard Scholem

Greeting from Angelus

A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’ shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed . But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.

End of citation.

After almost 80 years the Miracle and the Angel have been united in this exhibition here in Paris. After Benjamins death the Angel went with his colleague and friend Theodor Adorno to the United States and from there it was brought back by another friend: Gerhard Scholem, the one who wrote the poem cited above. The Angel is now in the collection of the Israel Museum in Jerusalem and for the coming two months (and not a day longer) it can be seen in the Klee exhibition in the Centre Pompidou.

Face to face with the Angel of History

In a fortunate and quiet moment in this exhibition I was face to face with this Angel of History. You can see me reflected in the photograph I took. What struck me was the sensitive fragility of this secular counterpart of the traditional angel. After reading Benjamin’s suggestive interpretation and looking at my photograph again I saw myself for a split second as a tiny part of that unstoppable storm of progress blowing in the wings of the Angel and pushing history forward. It was not megalomania at all; it was a subtle sense of futility and being part of one great movement forward…

Translations taken from: Hannah Arendt (Ed.), ‘Walter Benjamin, Illuminations’, London, 2002

For an analysis of the function of the Angel of History in Benjamins theory of history see: Andrew Benjamin, ‘Walter Benjamin and History’, London, 2005

From Eagle to Angel part 3

December 16th, 2015 by Willem Jan Renders

Suprematism, the style the Russian painter Kasimir Malevich invented, is already one hundred years old. To celebrate this anniversary, the Malevich Society organised a two-day conference at Columbia University inviting scholars from all over the world to give a lecture on different aspects of Suprematism (http://malevichsociety.org/). There are some people here that I need to see about the exhibition ‘Chagall, Lissitzky, Malevich’ that we are preparing for 2018 together with Centre Pompidou. Then there are some lectures on ‘Unovis’ that I would like to hear because this movement is part of our exhibition. And there are some people that I would like to meet because I have read some of their writings. And finally this is a chance to see some of my friends from the Lissitzky Foundation again. Enough reasons to go to New York already, but I after this will also go to Ilya and Emilia Kabakov in Long Island to discuss another project. And to learn all about angels of course.

Suprematism and Constructivism: affinities and differences

It would be too much to summarize all the lectures. Let’s leave that to someone else. I especially liked the lecture by Christina Lodder, who talked about similarities and differences between Suprematism and Constructivism and also took it on her to read some of the lectures of Russian scholars. I could listen to her for hours; her clear diction, perfect declamation and of course impeccable English. When I told her so, she threatened to use the fire extinguisher on me.

From left to right: Alexandra Shatskikh, Irina Vakar and Nina Bouis

One event should be mentioned though: an improvised discussion between two eminent Malevich scholars on a recently discovered text under the white paint in the ‘Black Square’ painting by Malevich in the collection of the Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. Recently it was discovered that someone wrote the text “Battle of the negroes in the dark” in Russian on this painting. This of course can be seen as an ironic description of the ‘Black Square’. Sorry to use the n-word here, but this is not my text. The question under discussion here was who actually wrote this on the painting. Tretyakov curator Irina Vakar defended the thesis that Malevich himself wrote it in 1915 as a funny comment on his recently finished painting. Malevich scholar Alexandra Shatskikh on the other hand was convinced that the artist would never do a thing like that. According to her, having finished this painting the artist sensed that he had discovered something exceptional so he would never make a comment like this. Moreover: the text is not in his handwriting and was written when the paint was already dry. It was probably some vandal who wrote it when the painting was on show and nobody was watching. I can imagine that you might think: “So what the hack?” But for me as an art historian and curator working in the field of Russian art it was a joy to listen to these two scholars exchanging arguments in this very civilised discussion. And Nina Bouis provided an excellent live translation.

A picture of PS1 in PS1

I took the Sunday afternoon off to visit PS1, the other MoMA. It’s near my hotel, only one subway stop away, but I decided to walk. It’s a sunny, almost warm afternoon, not at all the blizzard weather I have packed my suitcase for. The neighbourhood is a strange mixture of industrial building and little houses in between, unpolished and nice to live in for a while. At least I would not mind.

PS1 is an old factory renovated just enough to fulfil the function of showing art. But it has kept the overall wabi-sabi look and feel of an old industrial building and I find this very agreeable. The omnipresent ageless white cubes cannot inspire me anymore. When I arrived there were already people waiting at the door to get in. “New ideas need old buildings” someone wrote, and I could add that working here seems to give you eternal youth. This building must be in use as an exhibition centre now for some twenty years already but the staff and the public remains forever young.

After an excellent espresso with a piece of delicious raspberry and blackberry pie in the agreeable restaurant I am ready for ‘Greater New York’ the fourth iteration an five yearly exhibition series showing the work of emerging artists living and working in the New York metropolitan area. I was ready, but you will have to wait now because I have other things to do now.

 

Later!

From Eagle to Angel part 2

December 13th, 2015 by Willem Jan Renders

The entrance fee for the MOMA is 25 dollar! It makes you wonder who can afford a visit to a museum anymore. And this kind of exclusivity is becoming the rule more and more in museums. Working in a museum myself of course I know that the artworks themselves are getting more and more expensive too and museums consequently are obliged to pay more insurance money. But now with a shock I see where this leads. Yesterday a glance at the many enormous shiny white gallery spaces in Chelsea already convinced me that art will not become cheaper in the near future. There are people here who easily pay a million for a large new painting and as long as they are willing to do that the art market will provide.

Art museums are part of this crazy economy and it is only with great difficulty that they can avoid the consequences of it. And to be honest: a lot of people working in museums like this kind of exclusivity. As if working with very valuable objects would increase their own value! In the meantime no one seems to be aware that this omnipresent model of financial growth will eventually neck us (I mean museums, but come to think of it: us as human beings too). It cannot go on much longer.

Even Walid Raad is salonfähig now!

Walking in the exclusive premises of one of the biggest museums of modern art in the world I saw an exhibition of the Lebanese artist Walid Raad. Seeing his work on show here one cannot help noticing that even this once so inventive and critical artist is salonfähig now. It is not so much his works – although some of them are a bit licked – as well as the surroundings that give me this impression. Here the museum seems to take the sting out of the work.

There is a huge exhibition of sculptures by Picasso and it only convinced me once again that this artist made far too much of anything: paintings, drawings, prints, cups and saucers, you name it. And sculptures too, as can be seen in these large rooms filled with objects and people. You could say this is a MOMA blockbuster. But the rest of this museum is also totally equipped to host large quantities of visitors. There are smaller coffee corners and restaurants with someone at the entrance that will get you seated. And there are red signs at the entrance of some rooms stating that the quantity of persons in it may not exceed a certain number: that would be ‘unlawful’. A few years ago I was here for a meeting and I saw how the museum opened its doors at 10.30 a.m. It was like a military operation, the preparations for an invasion.

I don’t know if this scale of art exhibiting is necessary. It’s not my personal favourite, but many people seem to enjoy it. Next to that I also see groups of deadly tired tourists hobbling behind the guide to the next ‘must see’ taking some pictures here and there that will serve as proof for the home front.

Anyhow, there was a nice exhibition here for me too: the work of Joaquín Torres-García (1874 – 1949). I never heard of this versatile artist who was originally from Uruguay and worked in Barcelona and New York.

Sketches on abstract and concrete by Joaquín Torres-García

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Easy to understand and with lots of humor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Very special for me was a notebook with sketches on abstract and concrete and his educational material for children. The exhibition offers an overview of the work of Torres-García and there are two key chapters in it: the period from 1923 to 1933, when the artist participated in various European early modern avant-garde movements, and 1935 to 1943, when, having returned to Uruguay, he made abstract works. Of course there was much more and good MOMA coffee kept me going during this long museum visit. All the way to the fascinating Proun painting by Lissitzky.

Educational material for children by Joaquín Torres-García

From Eagle to Angel (intermezzo)

December 12th, 2015 by Willem Jan Renders

Just text this time and not about art at all. Consider it a background for what is to follow. Or just don’t read it.

So I woke up in the city that never sleeps and discovered that my little town blues had melted away… only to see that there’s already a big traffic jam in the street of my hotel at 7 a.m. while I am eating what is considered to be breakfast here: spongy bread, dry scrambled egg and too salt fat sausages. The watery coffee and a concert of hooting cars playing in the background make this sad meal complete. Eating alone in a restaurant was never my favourite pastime but this is pretty much near the limit for someone who is used to a quiet table with good bread, a well-baked omelette and fresh orange juice. Or some yoghurt with home made marmalade, small pieces of apple, nuts and raisins if you wish. And then a good espresso. Of course some of this would be possible, also in a cheap hotel like this, but someone would have to want it first. And no one seems to want it here. All guests seem perfectly satisfied. I really need to find a restaurant with good organic food because I won’t last very long on this junk here. The throwaway plates, cups and cutlery match this lousy breakfast. What a total waste!

The traffic jam is still there when I walk on the sunny street to take the subway to Manhattan. Next to my hotel there is a gas station with a little supermarket. I already went there yesterday for my daily two bottles of mineral water, but you can also buy fresh food there. Well, fresh… Somehow this seems a good combination though: selling gasoline and food. If you had to, what would you choose? Food of course! But the gasoline here is probably better for cars than this food is for humans. Ever since the warnings for global warming we know that the two are related in another way; the more fuel we burn the less food we can eventually grow. But the collective effort that is needed to get our oil consumption under control and our food production improved seems far away here. Unfortunately I fail to see how a conference on climate change can bring any difference whatsoever in this day-to-day New York endemic. Or in the similar one the Netherlands for that matter. We will have to try very hard.

But where was I? Oh yes: on my way to the subway station, looking at the solid iron overground construction with trains going high over an overpass for cars and the traffic on the ground moving slowly under all this. Next I was going down the stairs to catch the E train to 53rd and Fifth. I like the sound of that: the E train to 53rd and Fifth. It should be pronounced in this fat American English that you also hear when entering the trains: “Stand clear of the closing doors please.” 53rd and Fifth: that is almost on the corner of MOMA, in the limo and blinded SUV neighbourhood where only money makes the difference.

End of intermezzo.

From Eagle to Angel part 1

December 11th, 2015 by Willem Jan Renders

In Moscow I tried the eagle wings by Andrey Filippov

Earlier this year in Moscow I saw the exhibition of Andrey Filippov in the Ekaterina Foundation. A major theme in his work is Russian identity and on the wall he had painted the wings of the Russian eagle. Of course I could not resist the temptation to try them. Ever since the Steve Miller song I wanted to fly like an eagle and I flew all the way to the nest of the American eagle. At JFK airport the customs officer looked a bit suspiciously at me when he saw the different Russian and Belorussian visa in my passport but he let me in nevertheless after I told him that I came for a conference at Columbia University. But that’s tomorrow.

Today I took a walk to see the skyline from the High Line. This walking strip above the ground led me from the Hudson Bay to Chelsea where all the big galleries are. I visited a few of them and then went to the Pace Gallery (http://www.pacegallery.com/newyork/exhibitions/12777/ilya-and-emilia-kabakov-new-paintings) where Ilya and Emilia Kabakov show the paintings of their new collaborative series made in the last two years. It’s a big opening with big paintings in the Big Apple and everybody is there of course. Here’s a first impression of what is on show.

All brand new…

 

The paint on these huge paintings is still fresh but what they show takes us back to two totally different historical periods not only in subject matter but also in style. We see for instance a citation of the swirling baroque figures of ‘Moses Striking the Rock’ (1653) by the unknown Genovese painter Valerio Casello combined with what seems a painted photograph of two boys in the Soviet era. The Kabakovs have used this kind of ‘collage’ before, for instance in the series of Dark Paintings that were shown a few years ago in Hanover, but never so painterly and free as we see here. This biblical theme even gets a touch of Soviet painting and the juxtaposition with a fifties snapshot makes you wonder if these boys have discovered something as miraculous as the water that Moses found for his thirsty people.

Valerio Casello, Moses Striking the Rock, 1653, oil on canvas, 197 x 261 cm, Musée du Louvre, Paris

 

Ilya and Emila Kabakov, The Two Times, 2014, 190,5 x 284,5 cm, Pace Gallery New York

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Six Paintings about the Temporary Loss of Eye Sight (2015) is another new series. These paintings made me think of a certain theory of visual perception (was it the one by Gibson?) that defines the visual field as consisting of little dots. Visual information is consequently considered as information in the light. Following this theory loosing your eye sight could imply that the dots in the visual field turn all white. In these paintings you see the visual field under attack and crumble as it were. The dots, these round snowflakes in a slightly irregular pattern, try to prevent you from seeing what you can see. Here we discover the other side of Kabakov paintings: the linear one. The lines delineating these figures are all red. It seems they try to fixate the visual.

The Six Paintings on the Temporary Loss of Eyesight (They are Painting the Boat), 2015, oil on canvas, 111,8 x 195,6 cm, Pace Gallery, New York

In a small room of the gallery the 1997 edition of Mathematical Gorsky was shown. It is the seventh album from Kabakov’s 10 Characters series: beautifully illustrated stories about all kinds of strange people. Mathematical Gorsky is a person specializing in a special branch of mathematics: series. He discovers that some series under certain conditions can generate new ones. We see some of these series in typical Kabakov drawings. 
In some other paintings the dots themselves also contain visual information. Here below are some examples. 
I was invited for a dinner after the opening but I declined because of my jetlag. I’d better go to sleep in the city that never does.

What is left of The Seasons of the Year

June 13th, 2015 by Willem Jan Renders

(Please read the first part of this blog if you did not yet.)

Inside the new Garage you are welcomed by a huge Bulatov painting (poster would be a better word) that says: “everyone to our ! garage” (at least I think it should be translated as “to” and not as “in”). The other side, equally big, just says “garage”, surrounded by balloons.

And indeed everyone seems to have come to Garage tonight on the occasion of this not so private opening. The whole international flying art circus is packed in this 5,400 square meter building.

Unlike many here I am not looking for people I know. I will meet hem anyway (or not). As your dedicated reporter I am also carefully avoiding the delicious vodka that is being served in large quantities and in various combinations.

 

Eh, no thank you, I’ll have a sparkling mineral water please…

 

First of all I am looking for the parts of the original Vremena Goda (Seasons of the Year) building. One part, the mosaic, is prominently present in the central hall. But to call the preservation of this prominent part of a Soviet restaurant and some of the original walls “a renovation of late Soviet architecture” would be too much said.

There are a few more walls of the original building, but this is undoubtedly a creation by Rem Koolhaas. A nice building, undoubtedly, smart looking, a clever interplay of volumes, severe, even austere sometimes, but this new Garage is certainly not a museum.

It would have been a nice start for Dasha to ask Rem to make a building – any at all- and to look for the function afterwards. The outcome of this architectural experiment would have been a ‘folly looking for function’ and interesting in all respects.

But this building, opening now with so much aplomb, has been intended, designed and built as a museum. And it’s not! The way in which the few original ‘old’ artworks in one of the opening expositions are shown already announce that this is not and can never be a museum. The delicate original drawings by Malevich, Suetin and Yakerson (I leave out some other artists) are shown in far too much light, behind reflecting glass and with the shadows of the frames casting over the drawings. The anonymous Moscow collector who owns these works is probably the only one in the world to allow drawings of this kind to be shown like this. I think the climate control of this building will prove to be very difficult, especially during the hot Russian summers and the proverbial cold winters.

To make exhibitions in a Koolhaas building was never and will never be be an easy task. Function follows form in his mind and the use of a building was never a real issue for him, whether it was an office he designed, a private home, a concert hall or a museum. So exhibitions will have to be made to fit into this new Garage or one will have to make a special architecture inside to house them. Hopefully this environment of black concrete walls and sanded underlayment floors will generate a new type of exhibitions, but new ideas to show contemporary art feel already perfectly at home in old buildings too. And an old factory for instance makes the artworks on show a lot less pretentious.

Forbidden for wheelchairs

 

And that’s not everything. Unlike the Kunsthal Rotterdam the entrance and exit is clear for the public fortunately. But an easy chair is hard to find in these Spartan surroundings, even in the restaurant. And I would certainly not like to be in a wheelchair here, not only to move around in the building but also and especially to go to the toilet. Looking for a book in the bookshop is also forbidden for those who cannot walk.

 

Koolhaas citing himself

 

 

 

 

I walk up the stairs towards the auditorium, another citation of the Kunsthal Rotterdam. Let’s have a look at some of the exhibitions now.

 

 

A New Garage for the Seasons of the Year

June 11th, 2015 by Willem Jan Renders

A recent discussion on the function and structure of the ‘read and share’ department of our website made me think about the kitchen blogs I wrote so far. Although I am still not convinced that the ‘format’ for these blogs is the one that I would like to develop – the blogs about my Russian adventures are a bit like ‘Tintin in the Land of the Soviets’ in more than one respect – I could not resist the temptation to write one more. I have met several people who encouraged me to do so, but a critical opinion on my writings is harder to find. Anyway, now I have some readers in mind and that helps me to start. There we go.

I had to be in Moscow anyway to further discuss our ‘Chagall, Lissitzky, Malevich project’ (see: synopsis lowres) with ROSIZO and the State Tretyakov Gallery and I also had an invitation to give a lecture in Moscow this week, so when I found the special card for the private opening of the new Garage building in my post, it was not difficult to combine things. There are many, many openings of art exhibitions and I am one of the persons who receives lots of invitations, but I am not so spoiled that an invitation from Dasha Zukhova specially delivered by FedEx gets lost in the pile.

Dasha makes me an offer I cannot refuse…

 

It’s obvious that you don’t go to the opening of a new museum building to see the architecture or the art presented in it. Openings are crowded social events and people go there to see other people. That’s why I avoid them more and more. A quiet Tuesday morning is the perfect museum time for me. But tonight I will jump into this crowd of the international flying circus out of pure curiosity. Shuttles will take us from the Ritz Carlton to Gorky Park, where the red carpet shows clearly that it is not easy to enter this event. In fact I wonder how my invitation will get me in.

My hotel is in the area behind the Bolshoi Theatre and far too luxurious for an ordinary curator of the Van Abbemuseum. It’s a good thing I was invited to give a lecture. This is an area like Fifth Avenue or other rich parts of any of the world’s metropolises. Here in Moscow we have the Kremlin, the Duma, the Opera and other theatres, the most expensive shops, restaurants and nightclubs and of course the famous Russian bath all in one square kilometre. The big 18th and 19th century buildings are too expensive to house an ordinary supermarket. Gucci, Armani, Prada and many more compete for the favours of the happy few. I see one pair of shoes exclusively arranged behind a large window. No doubt someone’s wife will buy these.

Walking in the sun (to find a supermarket to buy some cheaper bottles of mineral water than in my hotel) I hear a soprano rehearsing and a few blocks further a cellist is trying the most difficult part of his score over and over behind an open window on the first floor. Here you wouldn’t say that the standard of living is aspoor as my Russian friends assure me it is. The cars are almost all chauffeured, big and shiny black, (strangely enough almost all are black and some white or silver) ranging from expensive to more and even more expensive. We can see the chauffeur, but the blinded car windows hide the rich and (in)famous from public view. Around noon some of these huge black cars are escorted at high speed by police cars with loud sirens through the ever-busy traffic. A powerful man (surely not a woman) apparently has to be in time for lunch.

My talks with the director of the State Tretyakov Gallery today went OK as did my talks with the director of ROSIZO yesterday. My dear colleague Tatiana Goriatcheva takes me to the new Tretyakov Gallery on Krimsky Val in her car afterwards to discuss further possible loans and the concept for a new project. We exchange a lot of information in a few hours and I take home many notes and photos to go through later. Walking to the metro station I ask myself once more where all the money for this exhibition can be found. The insurances for the artworks are huge and transport costs are quite substantial too. But walking the entrance of Gorky Park and looking at the absurd the red carpet for the opening tonight I suddenly realize that you can only do such a project step by step.

The main entrance of Gorky Park…

 

but not so easy to enter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I only have a few moments to refresh and change clothes in my hotel and then it’s time to party. I for once do not forget my camera and put some business cards in my pocket to give to the yet unknown sponsors I look forward to meet tonight. The shuttle bus takes me and a few other guests on a long trip through the evening traffic jam, twice the time it would have taken me to go by metro.

A new Kunsthal Rotterdam?

 

Again in Gorky Park I walk in the evening sun toward the new creation of Rem Koolhaas, a museum built over the ruins of the famous Vremena Goda (Seasons of the Year), a Soviet Modernist restaurant built in 1968. From the outside the building looks like the place where I worked twenty years ago: the Kunsthal Rotterdam, also by our great architect. Admittedly he did a little stretching and morphing but he cannot fool me. I am an expert user of a genuine Koolhaas exhibition building. For five years I have worked in the Kunsthal Rotterdam. I’ve seen people desperately seeking the entrance and exit of that building. Others fell from the steep stairs and I thought they would never get up again. My present colleagues there are still struggling to fit their exhibitions in this masterly creation of architecture.

 

From the outside the new Garage has the same skin deep beauty as the Rotterdam Kunsthal had 25 years ago. The building looks great on photos, especially in this late sunlight with the guests gathering for this obviously not so very private opening. The men from the big black blinded cars have collected their women in colorful dresses and together they are immortalized by professional photographers against a white background with black Garage logos.

Against logos

 

Enter the new Koolhaas monument!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

People that are not on the list are trying to get in, but the delicate and beautiful girls in black dresses that are checking the names of the guests on their tablets can say “no” with an elegant smile because they are backed up by huge muscular men, of course also in black, but with a little white earplug enabling them to hear the instructions of the supreme security commander that no one has ever seen. A wonder! My name is on the list, so I get a black plastic wristband with a white Garage logo on it. Now I am really one of the incrowd.

Et in Arcadia ego…

Dinner is being served. Come and see it!

February 6th, 2014 by Willem Jan Renders

My favorite part: hanging.

Only two days ago we were installing and now it looks like an exhibition! 

The Garbage Room in the Kunsthaus

 

Yesterday while giving an exhibition tour to the Kunsthaus guides together with my colleague Katrin Bucher, I realized that this was one of the last tours I will give in this exhibition. In fact, I will give one more today after the press conference and then it’s over. Another goodbye is near and the feeling of melancholy that inevitably comes with it grasps me for a moment. What a project! What a show! It took me from Eindhoven to St. Petersburg and then to Moscow and Graz. Each time it was different and each time surprising. What an excellent idea of Charles to ask Ilya and Emilia and what a genius thought of them to come up with these different themes to juxtapose the oeuvre of Lissitzky and Kabakov!

and the Garbage Box

 

Here in Graz the setting again is a totally new invention. If you have time you really must come and see it. Anyway: it is your last chance! In Eindhoven you might say we were ‘confronting’ the two artists. But here in this specially designed exhibition architecture in Graz, Lissitzky and Kabakov are not facing each other anymore, at least not most of the time. Instead they are separated and thus the differences between them are stressed in the themes. But eventually they both come together in the ‘belly’ as Ilya calls it, the central room: the fallen angel is lying at the feet of the Pressa Star, the Red Wedge is opposed by The Fly, hard-core Soviet propaganda is next to delicately illustrated children’s books. The exhibition has become an organism, one big installation. El and Il. What a pair! What a pity that their creative marriage is over and done with after this! Before the opening I already face the final curtain…

Outside announcement of the exhibition

 

But I will not go on with a choked voice, although my eyes are getting wet and I am fighting against my tears. Let’s be a man about this! I clear my throat and blow my nose. Come on Willem Jan! There are plenty more interesting exhibition ideas to be found in the abundance of this life! There must be another exhibition project worth developing!

and inside

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Comforted and encouraged by myself I take a stroll along the murmuring Mur and eat a sausage with mustard in an Imbiss. The radio is playing ‘I did it my way’ in a very melodramatic version. It could well be by Andy Williams. I cannot get it out of my head when I continue my walk. It is thawing in Graz and more and more water is dripping from the roofs, turning the danger of roof avalanches into refreshing little drops on your head. It’s goodbye to the city with its voluptuous Baroque churches and its excellent Styrian food and wine, only one tour, the opening and a Russian dinner to go.

Ilya and Emilia with Katrin Bucher after the press conference in the Kunsthaus

 

My last tour was not my best. I kept on mixing up German and English. Anyway, I think I got the message of the exhibition across and people were certainly very interested and they seemed to like the show. I went to the hotel and quickly changed for the opening. In my short speech I described the venues of the tour and paid special attention to the present installation in the Kunsthaus, which is indeed outstanding.

 

Many thanks of course to director Peter Pakesh, curator Katrin Bucher and the excellent team of technicians here. It has been a pleasure to work in the Kunsthaus. Last but certainly not least one more thank you to Ilya and Emilia Kabakov. And now it’s time for some vodka and new ideas!

Cooking at full speed

February 3rd, 2014 by Willem Jan Renders

“Mind your step” is what you have to keep in mind too while walking down the streets in Graz. While large parts of Austria suffer under the burdens of extreme quantities of snow, here in Graz it rains ice, glazed frost. The sidewalks are covered with it and the branches of the trees seem to be made of crystal. Signs everywhere in this Swarovski city warn for roof avalanches and people put large wooden sticks at an angle against the walls to further warn the pedestrians. What comes down from the high roofs is pure ice in lumps. If you are hit by such a cold twist of fate you might not survive…

crates everywhere and only a few days to go…

 

Luckily our hotel is not far from the Kunsthaus, so the slipping and sliding takes only five minutes each time we go there. Never hurry. Festina lente. That’s what we also practise inside the exhibition; when working with artworks you should slow down and know exactly what your next steps will be. But it is Monday now. On Thursday we will have the opening, so we are a little rushed.

condition checks

 

 

 

It is eight in the morning. Ilya and Emilia Kabakov are arranging and hanging the garbage on strings with two assistants. My colleague Toos Nijssen has checked the Lissitzky works on paper together with a colleague from Graz. Now the restorers are checking the Lissitzky paintings and condition reports are being made.

the Pressa Star is lifted on a pedestal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the meantime the Pressa Star is lifted on the pedestal and people are unpacking the Kabakov works from the crates. The last bits of grey and brown are painted and I am arranging the Lissitzky works in the first rooms. Photo’s are delivered and pedestals are made.

 

The kitchen in Graz is cooking at full production speed.

 


Van Abbemuseum