This blog is a project of the Van Abbemuseum

Welcome / Welkom

This is a blog dedicated to the museum musings of the curators and guest curators, invited to the Van Abbemuseum, who work (and play) within the context of the permanent collection and other museum projects. ‘de keuken’ provides a look into the chaotic kitchen of their thoughts, opinions and generally anything else as they cook up a storm of experiences with the city, its people and the museum. We invite you in as a sous-chef to comment/participate in our forum and nose through the drawers and cupboards of the archives for interesting insights into outsiders inside the VAM.

New / Nieuw van de dag


On this page we have a weekly/topical focus, for example an interesting event or biennale coming up, or some more general issue raised recently within the art world. We invite you as a visitor to jump headfirst into the stew of opinions, facts and angles.

What do blogs do? – the makers of this blog have some pillow talk about what goes on in the kitchen… Read on »


“1848 – 1989″ – second L’Internationale exhibition in Van Abbemuseum: the research begins

October 8th, 2013 by Steven ten Thije

Horace Vernet, Painting of Battle at Soufflot barricades at Rue Soufflot Street on 24 June 1848

Starting the research for an exhibition is always difficult; especially if the exhibitions is part of a five year project with a name that is so enormous it feels like a whale: ‘The Uses of Art – on the legacy of 1848 and 1989″. It feels like diving into very deep and very rough water without a life vest, but here goes. And to be honest, we already started, as one always starts thinking about an exhibition not on a well-defined date, but somewhere in the middle of the night in a bar, or drinking your morning coffee, reading a newspaper, or just talking with a colleague.

This particular exhibition dealing with 1848 and 1989 is a typical variant of such an organic process. It isn’t even based on the thinking of one curator, but is more the organic growing together of several people of even various organisations, most notably Grizedale Arts and the Van Abbemuseum, later brought into the current L’Internationale project on the The Uses of Art. The tile of the exhibition is “New Republics – 1848 – 1989 – today” and it is one of the most complex, essay-like exhibitions we conceived, but also one of the most exciting ones. What it aspires to do is offer a wide-angle reflection on the formation of the modern world and the role art and aesthetics have had within it. The reason to ask such a big question is informed by an awareness that the current, systemic change in world economy, politics and culture affects the entire fabric of modern society. This is the reason not start for instance in 1945 at the horrible tabula rasa, but to go back to that iconic year in the 19th century – 1848 – which marks the moment when the French Revolution went European and all over the continent you had different uprisings and reforms (the introduction of the new Dutch constitution being one of them) that aimed to dramatically reshape the way in which people – as citizens – participated in society.

But as enchanting this awareness might be, addressing such a complex transformation in an exhibition remains en enormously challenging task. To deal with this challenge we have thought to take a rather different approach then we normally do and open up our thinking and research via this blog and our other social media channels. Hopefully also attracting some interesting reflections from outside. In this sense it will be our first public research done within the framework of L’Internationale’s ‘The Uses of Art”-project and will use the new hastag #UOAresearch.

So come join us, as observer or discussion partner, and let’s see what kind of exhibition we will end up with.

The uses of art

September 29th, 2013 by Steven ten Thije

The Uses of Art partners

In May this year the Van Abbemuseum, together with five museums and four other partners, started a large five-year European cooperative project: The uses of art – on the legacy from 1848 and 1989. It is the second project of the new international confederation of museums known as l’Internationale. The network links the Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven with museums in Antwerp, Barcelona, Istanbul, Ljubljana and Madrid. In the next few years the organizations want to examine how they can arrive at a new form of international museum cooperation with a large series of exhibitions and symposiums. The years in the title of the project (1848 and 1989) function as background and refer to the two civil revolutions in the 19th century and the 20th century. These were both moments at which large groups of citizens spread throughout Europe forcefully advocated a new social order. In the project we would like to use these moments, which were both creative and destructive, to help us reflect on the present and examine the current significance of civil institutions such as museums, art schools and universities.

For the Van Abbemuseum the l’Internationale project The uses of art is closely linked to the museum’s agenda in terms of content for the next five years. This agenda is not so much determined by developments in art alone, but rather provides a general reflection on the contemporary world. The internet, the crisis – both in political and economic terms – and the issue of ecology mean that society will undergo some far-reaching changes in the coming years. The general trend in this shift is characterised by a complex restructuring in the relationship between micro and macro politics, or, expressed in less abstract terms, the relationship between the individual, the small community such as a town or municipality, and the large political structures such as the province, the state and Europe. The NSA surveillance scandal, the Arabic spring and recently the protests around Gezi Park in Istanbul are all examples of the new relations between big and small. Local or personal themes such as religion, freedom of speech, or simply a park are at odds with the interests of powerful, national governments.

Also the way Europe, with its incomplete democratic legitimization, and IMF enforce rigorous protestations from southern member states, clearly indicate the difficult relationship between large supranational structures and smaller, national governments. In the Netherlands an almost infinite series of cabinet crises of governments which have silently transferred state responsibilities to local municipalities for nearly a decade, serves as an early sign of this revolution. As a result municipalities are longer referred to as “lower” but as “other” levels of government. These are all developments that indicate that far-reaching changes are taking place in the dynamics between the local and international levels.

This development has enormous consequences for our cultural experience, which has traditionally had a strong national character and infrastructure. Museums, universities and art schools have close links with the modern, democratic, capitalist nation state. One characteristic of this modern state was succinctly described by Auke van der Woud[1] in his excellent study of the creation of the modern Netherlands as a revolution of the classical “ideal civilisation”. While before the 19th century civilisation was, above all, a task for the individual, who first became cultivated himself and only then turned to his environment, the 19th-century citizen became civilised because he lived in a civilised environment. The point of departure for the 19th-century nation state was the notion that things could be made and the governing body at the top endeavoured to create a climate, both physically and culturally, for orderly and productive citizens: the state as an all-encompassing machine for the “good life”. In a similar vein, the museum was described by the French author Bataille as the lungs of the city, which people are pumped through on a weekly basis, to emerge at the other end refreshed and inspired. But it is this sense of order, control and security that we no longer find in the contemporary world.

It is above all the internet which has made this tightly-knit structure of institutions, interconnected by the rather arbitrary unity of the nation state, function less and less like it did in the past. While you used to move neatly and in an orderly fashion from one access point to the next, the internet now invites you to become involved in everything, as though you were sitting behind the counter yourself. Doctors, journalists, politicians, as well as art critics are confronted on a daily basis with citizens who are constantly testing the conclusions of the experts against the infinite ocean of information that is the worldwide web. That is not to say that all the civil institutions have become completely obsolete at a stroke. We still go to the doctor when we’re ill, buy newspapers when we want information, and visit museums if we want to see art, but in addition to these traditional services, we also always have other channels to gain access to information about what we’re looking for or about what has happened to us. The institutions may not have become obsolete at a stroke, but we do use them differently, and this also applies to art museums.

The biggest shift in art is that it is no longer a clearly defined and self-evident field which can withdraw to the museum. Rather, art has become a sort of infiltrator with a latent presence everywhere, always ready to get going and become active. Art is no longer a thing with its own identity – the work of art – but rather an attitude: a specific way of looking or experiencing things which everyone actually always carries round with them, but which is only used from time to time. The basis of this attitude is an open-minded approach which observes things that are already visible, but not yet comprehensible. It is a way of looking at the act of looking itself, in which all the details which we are accustomed to ignore become visible. In the early modern period this looking at the act of looking was considered an autonomous field and art was seen as the place where the universal laws of this looking were analysed and exposed. The relationship between the public and the art institute was a passive one, based on the principle of representation. In the museum the citizen could follow the general development of art but did not have to become involved in it at all. Nowadays the importance of the representative function has declined and art has become more of a  skill which we sometimes use and sometimes don’t use, like a sort of idiosyncratic “app” on the smartphone of our citizenship.

With the l’Internationale project The uses of art the Van Abbemuseum is looking for a correspondence with this new “use” of art and the new relationship between macro and micro politics. The museum is part of a decentralised network of museum expertise, and the “raw materials” (the works in the collection) can move about freely as required. In this new structure the museum will still tell stories about art from the (recent) past and present. However, it will no longer do this as a neutral and omniscient storyteller, but will explicitly provide a specific perspective responding to the present moment. With l’Internationale the Van Abbemuseum wants to become part of a new structure which shares a number of characteristics with the internet. The challenge in this respect is above all to not just suggest in a superficial manner that the members of l’Internationale are interconnected in a hip, digital way, but to also change working patterns behind the scenes so that they start to fit in with the modern age. After all, an e-mail can be sent just like that, but transporting a Picasso with a value of several million euros requires a greater effort.

However, in our opinion, the starting point is not the collection or the institution, but the user. In this respect the micro level is more important than the macro level, with the individual as a member of a community as the point of departure. The cultural heritage owned by all the l’Internationale members is collected for and by a community – by yourselves. The story about 1848 and 1989 is therefore not a story about or for Europe, but a story about and for the people who live in Europe. When you ask yourself the question “Who am I?” you always ask it against a background of “we” in which you exist as an individual. The European “we” is diffuse and comes in many different forms, and it consists of many different communities which each have their own story. Exchanging these stories in such a way that you can experience both the differences and similarities with people elsewhere is one of the main aims of the Van Abbemuseum and l’Internationale. We hope that you will use art and the museum in this way in the future in order to make sense of the world that is coming and that the museum can be a place where you feel at home and where you are invited to think about your place in the world, today and tomorrow. This may sound like a utopian dream, but it is not inconceivable. After all, every journey starts with a dream about what can be, compared to what is now – certainly when that journey can take five years.


L’Internationale comprises Moderna galerija (Ljubljana, Slovenia), Museo nacional centro de arte Reina Sofía (Madrid, Spain), Museu d’art Contemporani de Barcelona (Barcelona, Spain), Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Antwerpen (Antwerp, Belgium), SALT (Istanbul, Ankara, Turkey) and the Van Abbemuseum (Eindhoven, the Netherlands). The other partners of The uses of art are Aprior / Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Ghent, Belgium); Grizedale Arts (Conniston, United Kingdom); Liverpool John Moores University (Liverpool, United Kingdom) and Universität Hildesheim (Hildesheim, Germany). For more information about l’Internationale and The uses of art see the temporary website: (the new website will go live at the end of November).

[1] In addition, this text made use of, amongst other things, Auke van der Woud, Een nieuwe wereld, het ontstaan van het moderne Nederland, (A new world, the creation of the modern Netherlands), Amsterdam (Bert Bakker), 2006 (tenth edition, 2013).

Hanging, hanging over again and a hangover

September 19th, 2013 by Willem Jan Renders

Academic hanging in one of the Lissitzky rooms in MAMM

“A bit to the right, a bit down. That’s ok. Next one.” The walls have to be filled. These are the ‘dog days’. I don’t know if it is an expression in English – there is a movie called ‘Dog Day Afternoon’ – but in Dutch it means that you have to work real hard in the bloody heat to get the harvest in. Now if you leave the heat out and position me in a fully air-conditioned museum in rainy Moscow you have my current dog days. I start at 8 in the morning and work until 10, 11 in the evening. As breaks I have just a little coffee or a sandwich in between the scenes. But I am not complaining. On the contrary. There is a good technical team here, sometimes a bit rough with the artworks, but they work very fast and precise. And their days are also very long, so I am not the only one. My Russian is getting better and better because I have to explain everything I want them to do in Russian. “That can be hung.” “это можно повесить.” A bit up, the right a bit down. There is too much light on this drawing. Can you dim it?

Acadynamic hanging in the same room

Back from Mondrian in the New Tretyakov I go directly to the museum to select the Lissitzky photographs and to put them in place before the walls on the balcony. It’s Friday and we have two more days. I keep telling myself not to get nervous but it does not help. We all work very hard but I doubt if we can open on Monday. There is so much to do! The texts also need to be in the right place…

Meanwhile some of the rooms begin to look like an exhibition

In the evening I have a quick bite to eat and I am off to the concert of the Kyteman Orchestra in Gorki Park. They have a very good rapper who sings in French, but I am not sure if he really is French. But the French rap gives me goose pickles. The other singers are also very good. But the Don Kosack choir stood on the stage too long without doing anything, just as a living background. Some of the compositions are a bit too lengthy but all in all it’s a good concert. Luckily I brought my umbrella because it is starting to rain again. I cannot support it with facts, but I get the impression that it’s not because of the bad weather that there are not so many people here. Such a big and costly free concert should attract at least four times as many people. I doubt if many music lovers in Moscow knew that this orchestra was coming. Or maybe they knew it but they did not know that they make such good music.

Nearby in a restaurant in Gorki Park is a reception of the Dutch Embassy. I did not print my invitation but luckily they have someone with a list of names, so I can get in. Here they have good, fresh, sparkling champagne and the tables are filled with food. Crisis? What crisis? Thymen Kouwenaar from the Embassy introduces me to our minister Bussemaker as “an expert on Russian art from the Van Abbemuseum” and I have to explain to her what I am doing here and where our exhibition will travel. I tell her that the show will go to Graz after Moscow. She asks if our Lissitzky works will be coming back to the Netherlands (!) and I assure her that we will take care of that. Then there is another person waiting to be introduced to the minister. He’s a director of Shell and I doubt if we have much to talk on, so I politely say goodbye. That will be all of my diplomacy for today and I sprinkle a few more conversations with a few more glasses of champagne and taste some of the food. Before leaving early I beg someone for a cigarette. It tasted delicious but it I had a sour throat the next morning. And the hanging started early.

Lissitzky poster heavily damaged

September 15th, 2013 by Willem Jan Renders

El Lissitzky, Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge, 1920, poster heavily damaged

The famous Lissitzky poster Beat The Whites With The Red Wedge (1920) has been heavily damaged in the Multimedia Art Museum in Moscow. In the middle there’s a big hole and pieces of paper are hanging down.

What the hell has happened?

Lissitzky poster in the central hall of the Multimedia Art Museum Moscow

Yesterday evening, Friday 13 September 2013, an Angel has miraculously fallen down through the roof of the museum, through the center of the poster.

Fallen Angel

The technical staff from the museum is assisting in putting together the Angel again.

Ilya Kabakov installing the Fallen Angel

The Angel will probably never be able to fly again. She will stay in intensive care here until the end of the exhibition.

Fallen Angel lying on the ground

And the Lissitzky poster will never be the same again.

Hello goodbye!

September 15th, 2013 by Willem Jan Renders


Checking the condition of the paintings.

After what feels like a long day already I leave the museum in the afternoon to go to the opening of the Mondrian exhibition and it’s raining. It’s not a long walk across the bridge to the New Tretyakov Museum, but I feel my legs getting heavier and heavier each day because of the miles (or kilometres) I walk from one room to the other in the seven-story museum building. And now, outside in the Moscow autumn rain without an umbrella, I suddenly feel very tired. Luckily my hotel is on the way and they have an umbrella with their name in big letters on it in each room, so I only have to pick it up and go across the street to a coffee house (Кофе Хауз, the Russian Starbucks) where you can quickly get a double espresso. Once I called it ‘twin espresso’ in Russian and the waitress could not stop laughing. So now I know how to order a ‘double espresso’ in Russian. I follow an intensive course in the school of life…

What a marvellous drug coffee is! I’m singing in the rain, just singing in the rain. What a glorious feeling, I’m happy again! The umbrella does not fit in the song.

The second floor of the New Tretyakov (we would call it the first floor) is crowded with cultural people, politicians and diplomats gathered here because the Dutch minister Jet Bussemaker will open the exhibition. There is also the Dutch film director Paul Verhoeven who has just given a press conference on his oeuvre. A lot of Dutch people secretly glance at him, but the Russians have no idea who he is. Large tables filled with glasses of champagne form the golden frame of this cheerfully chatting company. The wine is getting hot and it’s loosing its bubbles because everyone has to refrain from drinking until the speeches are over. I see some people I know, but they are busy talking and I don’t want to talk. There is still some time to go upstairs and see the works in the collection on display on the fourth floor (yes: our third). It’s a large and beautiful collection of Russian and Soviet paintings and some sculptures from the end of the 19th century until the fifties / sixties of the last century. Each time I am in Moscow I go here to rehearse. Who has ever heard of Konchalovsky or Klutsis? There are so many surprising artworks here that we do not know in the West.

In the exhibition rooms upstairs I hear the start of the speeches under me and I quietly go on with my rehearsing walk. All speeches have to be translated, either from English to Russian or the other way round, so that may take some time. It means each speech will at least be twice as long. I think of the champagne that must be tepid and flat by then and I decide to skip it. It’s better for me not to drink now anyway because I still have to work and drinking will only make me tired again. I will just go and see the Mondrian exhibition, shake some hands and leave again.

Almost at the end of the speeches I go down to the second floor and on the stairs I am just in time to hear our minister state that she’s had constructive talks with her Russian colleague about gay rights, apparently forgetting for a moment that since a few weeks there is a law here that de facto bans public affection by LGBT people. As she has been able to establish there is a growing fear here that the situation will deteriorate. After this pearl of Dutch diplomacy I see the happy crowd rushing to the drinks and snacks. Instead of joining them I follow the Russian and Dutch ministers into the freshly opened exhibition that turns out to be surprisingly small, academic, but well done. Hello and goodbye to this and that person. We will see each other tonight (and say hello again…).

What goes where?

September 14th, 2013 by Willem Jan Renders

The preparations for the show are still not finished. They are painting walls everywhere, hammering and putting pedestals together, but there is a room where our courier Toos Nijssen can start unpacking and controlling the works from our collection together with the restorer from MAMM. Toos accompanied the transport in the trucks all the way from the Hermitage and she arrived yesterday. Our restorer will come tomorrow because he did not check the date in his e-mail. He thought he had to come to Moscow one day later, so he missed the plane and they had to book him another flight and it’s a no show in the hotel. They were not amused here, to say the least…

A rather large Lissitzky poster.

My first impression was that there are not enough works to fill the spaces. Luckily they brought a lot of photos by Lissitzky from the Russian State Archive of Literature and Art (RGALI) here in Moscow. I have never seen them before! All in all there are almost forty photographs of the Pressa exhibition in Cologne (1928) and some twenty more of other projects. Beautiful photographs of this impressive Pressa project! Now I still doubt if we have enough and it is a pity that they did not want our Lissitzky models in the exhibition. On the Lissitzky side we will only have things hanging on the walls and hardly any objects in the rooms.

I have installed room 1 and 2 but Ilya wants to hang the Lissitzky works differently, not only horizontally. He wants the Lissitzky works to go up on the exhibition wall; he wants dynamics. I like the idea, but I want to know how he wants to do it. Ilya says he wants a red and black line going upwards on the wall and the pictures should be arranged accordingly. He will make sketches. Very well! This is an artistic improvement of the show. I am curious what it will bring.

Just put some images on the wall!

Each sunny Moscow autumn morning when I walk from the hotel to the museum I have to pinch myself in the arm to realize I am really here, working on this exhibition. It is such a nice task that Ilya gave me! He could have done it all by himself as far as we are concerned. But I just love to walk around in a quiet and empty exhibition room to decide where we should hang the works.

At he moment they are still unpacking. I arrange some works together with our courier Toos Nijssen in the rooms that are ready, so that the technical staff will know the right order and I check all the rooms for empty walls. That is my worst nightmare at the moment: empty walls, my ‘horror vacui’. We do not have many works for this exhibition and the selection of them was not mine. I would have wanted some more but I have to deal with what we have at the moment and improvise. There is no question of asking for other loans anymore. The walls are large and empty. They need to be filled! This morning I woke up sweating because I thought I had forgotten one room totally! And indeed I had, but I was all taken care of already. I checked it with the production manager immediately after breakfast and she said it was all right. Only then my sweating stopped…

In the afternoon I read about Putin as a peacemaker. A U.S senator said that the Russian Syria plan was “the best thing to come out of Russia since vodka”. I think vodka is still the better thing. Not that I am in favor of attacking though.

Lissitzky – Kabakov, stage 3

September 13th, 2013 by Willem Jan Renders

The schedule for the installation of the exhibition Lissitzky – Kabakov in the Multimedia Art Museum Moscow (MAMM) is very tight. We at the Van Abbemuseum have said repeatedly that we do not think it’s possible to install this show in six days, even if you work around the clock with two dayshifts and a nightshift. But they are not a little cocky in Moscow; they will try it anyway. If I remember right what Ilya Kabakov once said about the creative concept, this installation process becomes an even greater mystery: “In any creative concept there are three components: the project, the attempt at realisation and the finished product. It should be said that the person involved at the beginning, the planner, has no idea what will happen midway through the process, or how it will end.” Of course he is right in the sense that we cannot overlook the whole creative process at the start. But I would say that means planning some extra time and reserving some extra money for the unexpected. And certainly not to try and do it in less than a week. Anyway: I am off to Moscow with new adventures ahead. I will be part of a very local rush, a creative race against the clock.

‘Propki’ is a nice Russian word for a lot of nuisance: traffic jam. I spent two hours in a car going from the Sheremetyevo airport to Moscow. It is nice that they send a car to pick you up but the train shuttle would have got me there in just half an hour. I tried to sleep next to the driver, but of course that is impossible with all the sudden movements in a row of cars all trying to be the first ahead. So I finally arrived quite exhausted, but glad anyway, because of the good hotel they had chosen for me. It’s near the museum and very convenient. I will say nothing of the design because when you start discussing design and interior decoration of hotels you will end up nowhere. Even Philippe Starck did not succeed in this difficult task. Let’s just say that they managed to meet general taste. And – very important – I can sleep on a good mattress. Finally.

The exhibition just needs to be finished…

There they are! So good to see them again! Always together, always working. Ilya and Emilia Kabakov are already here for a while. They realized a new version of the ‘Ship of Tolerance Project’ in Moscow and a concert for young musicians a few days ago and now they are starting to work on the exhibition. I thought the museum here would install the Lissitzky part of the exhibition just as they did in the Hermitage, but the first thing Ilya asks me is if I want to do it. That is quite an unexpected question for me. It means skipping a few appointments and group meetings, not seeing a lot of exhibitions and working late until the opening on Monday. But on the other hand it is quite a challenge. So I immediately decided to take this task upon me and find out which works will go where. But I really want Ilya to look over my shoulder and he is very happy to do that. We walk through all the exhibition rooms, discuss the concept and then we go for lunch to a good Italian restaurant. They call it ‘osteria’ but it is much better than that and much more expensive. The ossobuco Milanese with risotto is delicious.  When I come back I see the leftovers of the lunch of some of the workmen from Kazachstan and I feel ashamed of our luxury…

There’s no such thing as a free lunch, but there is lunch and lunch…

Interview with Fotini Gouseti on ‘Kalavryta 2012′ part of ‘Making Use: Dutch Art Institute at the Van Abbemuseum’

August 5th, 2013 by Steven ten Thije

This week is the last week to visit the exhibition ‘Making Use: Dutch Art Institute at the Van Abbemuseum’ (runs until 11.08.2013). This exhibition presents 10 new projects by the participants to the master seminar taught by the Van Abbemuseum at the Dutch Art Institute (DAI // ArtEZ) this year. Part of this exhibition is the work ‘Kalavryta 2012′ by Fotini Gouseti. In a short interview with her she explains more about the complex but also intriguing background to this visually impressive work.

Fotini Gouseti, ‘Kalavryta 2012′, copyright Peter Cox

Steven ten Thije (StT) – Fotini, for some years you have done extensive research on a village in Greece Kalavryta. In this interview we hope to learn more about this dense topic and how you realised the work. I would like to begin very simply, by asking if you could explain why this village is so important?

Fotini Gouseti (FG) – Kalavryta has a  double symbolic character in  Greece throughout the modern history of the country. Starting by being the nation-wide symbol of the struggle for freedom from the Ottoman domination, as it is the place that the revolution started in 1921. But more  relevant to  my research  is that  Kalavryta became a symbol because of the total destruction of the town and the mass execution of its male population on December 13, 1943 by the Wehrmacht Army. This is considered the greatest holocaust that happened in Greece during the Second World War. For both of these reasons, this small place of about 2000 inhabitants, is  charged with meanings in Greece.

StT- And, when did you become interested in this village? What is your relationship to it?

FG – I lived in Kalavryta for four years, between 2006 and 2010, working as an art teacher in the local schools. I consider that period as very fruitful for my development as an artist. My time there had a big impact on me and helped to form my general understanding and position towards art. The local society contributed in that development through everyday life,  lots of questions and human relations, which was quite different to what I had experienced until then. Those conditions made me realise that I’m interested in directing my research and art practice in relation to society and real life, using art as a way to live better.
In April 2012 I was in The Netherlands following the daily news about the harsh conditions in Greece due to the financial crisis, which resulted in social upheavals and drove people to desperation. It seemed like the financial crisis was accompanied by a social and ideological crisis. One day I came across an article that was about soothing that had been written on a wall in the area of Kalavryta  mentioning that “ A new Holocaust; to rid the place of dirt. Golden Dawn” Golden Dawn is an extreme right party that countenances violence, hate speech and a similar ideology to that of Nazism. The sudden growth and support of GD  was alarming. The next news regarding Kalavryta that took me by surprise, came the day after the Greek elections of May. 635 votes for the party of Golden Down were attributed by the press to residents of Kalavryta. Numerous articles mentioned an “erasure of historical memory of the residents of the martyr town of Kalavryta”. This news amazed me as I had formed a totally opposite impression of the politics of the village during my stay there.
That was when I decided to travel back to Kalavryta in order to understand what was going on. I started researching not only books, newspapers and archives, but also contacted a series of interviews with  inhabitants of a variety of ages, in order to see how the present is getting formulated as a result of the past.

StT- The work itself in the end is a carpet made from two thousand silk neck ties, using a traditional weaving technique specific to the area. I know that this relates to something that happened in the village, could you tell the story behind the carpet?

Fotini Gouseti, ‘Kalavryta 2012′, copyright Peter Cox

FG – After December 13th 1943 there were no men left above the age of 14 as they had been executed. There were no houses or food resources in Kalavryta due to the fire, theft and the general destruction. It was freezing as Kalavryta is located in the mountains, 750m above sea level. The women and children that who remained in  the breaches were supported by the inhabitants of the surrounded villages and Red Cross in order to survive. The following years UNNRA (United Nations Relief and Rehabilitations Administration) contributed a lot by offering packages with provisions to the affected population.
This work refers to a story from the post war period in Kalavryta, that a family called Vagia   told me. One day they received a very big package from UNNRA, they had to use a donkey to bring it home. When they finally opened it they found out that it was full of silk ties. Two to three thousands of them. There was nothing else in the package. The mother, Eleni Vagia, turned the silk ties to kourelou (a traditional Greek carpet), and as her son says today laughing “we were starving and freezing but walking on silk”.

StT – How did you realise the work? Did you get help to do the weaving?

Taxideutes Politismou

FG – The initial idea was that the carpet be weaved in Kalavryta the same way as the original one. But there was not a working traditional loom available in the region. The carpet was made by Culture and Laographic Society ‘’Taxideutes Politismoy’’ who are based in Athens. Taxideutes Politismou (TP) means culture voyagers. It is a community founded 2 years ago by young people who are seeking solutions in order to help their neighbourhood out of the frustration and the problems of the crisis. Now they are about 250 people of all ages. Their medium to do so is culture and tradition. They offer several activities among which are workshops on photography, traditional dance, weaving, percussion music, etc. TP believe that the only way to find ways out of crisis is through solidarity. They look for humanity, which they believe is an element that has ceased existing in contemporary life. They state companionship as their God. Believing that “it is joyful to offer without having expectations, respectively you receive much more than you could possibly expect’’. They are not only motivated but also self-funded. When TP and I met we had reciprocal feelings: they found the concept of ‘Kalavryta 2012’ appealing and I was amazed by them as they have a very practical and down to earth way of acting out their ideals.
For, the fact that TP made the carpet adds extra value to the context of the work as, one of the most important – prominent concepts of Kalavryta symbolism is that of solidarity. Solidarity between the women and children that were left over in the ruins is considered the basic reason that kept them alive.

StT- And what made you choose this form and this story for the work?

FG – The (hi)story of Kalavryta is made out of tragic (hi)stories. Every family has a drama to narrate. When the Vagia family told me this story among others I thought that the artwork was already there. So in this sense the story chose the work. This story consists of the histories (hidden and known), includes the consequences of the holocaust, as well as an ironic critique of the contemporary state of financial crisis. While I was listening to histories and narratives from the holocaust of Kalavryta, I kept thinking that the trauma of the second world war is not healed. It is just covered. The present is getting formulated also out of the outcomes of this trauma. In that sense the reenactment in this work functions as a catharsis.

StT- Do you see parallels and differences between what you are doing and what the group of volunteers are doing who helped made the carpet?

FG – Both TP and I are interested in finding solutions. I don’t believe that the medium is as important in this case as the goal. I happen to be an artist so that is my medium. There are electricians, plumbers, social workers, retirees, unemployed,  students and so on.. They state that for them culture and art is a way out. They are laughing at me saying that my way is their way out, while I don’t actually have a way out, as my life and my work runs on parallel tracks. What I find very challenging is that  for them art  is perceived as necessary tool, even if that is not clearly related to contemporary art.

StT- What does it mean to you that this work is now in a museum exhibition? Is there a specific relation to the context of the museum and this work?

FG – Van Abbe’s interest  for understanding the plurality of histories and how they communicate with each other  creates a common ground with the context of my research and this work. Out of my research in Kalavryta, I understood that there is no such a thing as “the history”, but there are instead a multitude of histories. These histories can be as many as the people experiencing a certain situation and through every individual person they can be reformed due to different conditions, contexts and perspectives. Personally, I see in the materialisation of this work both the concepts of solidarity and the network of the histories and narratives of the Kalavrytans, through which the present is getting formulated. I also believe that the combination of Anna’s Dasovic work together with mine, in this exhibition, creates the ground for further interpretations.

StT- What will be your next steps? Will this work be shown again elsewhere? And will the installation change?

FG – I would like this work to travel a lot and to communicate it’s context to different environments. I would also like to think that the installation of the work could be free according to the space and the given circumstances.

Fotini Gouseti, ‘Kalavryta 2012′, copyright Peter Cox

Long-term Loans, Bow Ties and a Lady in Green

July 15th, 2013 by Willem Jan Renders

Yes, there is a reader who encourages me to continue writing! Thanks for your comment Leonard! Good to hear from you. Indeed there seem to be many parallels between what Trotsky writes and the themes in Kabakovs work. I didn’t know that.

Much encouragement is not needed to go on writing, because I am beginning to like it. And there are still a few more stories to tell about my stay in St. Petersburg, although I can already announce that I did not get as far as Fortress Totleben. I know this will disappoint many readers, but at the risk of losing them I continue.

After the opening of the exhibition Charles and I went back to Kempinski to discuss a few long-term loans with some collectors over lunch. It is always a compliment if a collector wants to convey works of art to a museum, but it is very important to ask about the conditions first. To know exactly what the owner wants you to do and not to do with his works of art prevents many misunderstandings. In this case there was a lot to discuss because the owner wants us to do extensive research. But I think we came to a good agreement and we will go on and draw up a contract. And the lunch was good too.

It was still very hot when Charles and I went out to look for a black tie. I had brought my smoking and a black tie, but the day before after many attempts I still failed to follow the instructions of the internet course ‘How to Tie a Bow Tie’ (A Gentleman’s Guide to Evening Wear). I just could not do it. The last time I wore my smoking must have been at least ten years ago and I wondered if I could tie this tie then. Charles did not have a bow tie at all, so there we went along Nevski Prospekt looking for a pair of pre-tied ties, ones that you do not have to tie. A very expensive shop had some, not black though. But we did not want to look any further, so we bought a tie with little blue flowers for Charles and one in camouflage colors for me.

I liked my camouflage tie because of its absurdity. Dressing in camouflage clothes is already very strange when you are in a city. These clothes only provide camouflage in the woods. They make you stand out in any other surrounding. But a tie in camouflage colors can never provide any camouflage at all. The original function is totally gone and there is not the slightest possibility for hiding anywhere anymore

We took a cab and went to our hotel to take a shower, a nap and to dress up or the gala evening. An early meeting, a press preview, an opening, long term loans and a gala: it’s all in a day’s job! But I was rather tired and fell asleep immediately. A short very deep and refreshing sleep, a power nap to keep me going the rest of the evening. After dressing up in camouflage I tried to get some money for Charles from the machine in the hotel lobby but my card was refused. It’s the second time this happened to me in Russia so I took a private card with me also and got some money after all.

We walked with Ilya and Emilia from Kempinski to the entrance of the White Nights Gala. Expensive cars went of and on. The rich and the beautiful made their entrée. Photographers were everywhere (for photos see for instance: Of course it was not very hard to distinguish who was rich and who was beautiful. In most cases it’s either one or the other; these properties seldom unite in one person.

Speaking of beautiful: one lady immediately caught my eye and continued to catch it at several moments during the rest of the evening. I called her The Lady in Green. She had a natural grace that was surprising, receiving all the admiring glances with a remarkable smile and self-evident charm. There was not a trace of arrogance on her face. La Bella Principessa by Leonardo da Vinci would fade in her presence. On the internet I found a photograph of her at the Jordan staircase. I cannot enlarge it and that is precisely how it should be; she’s very far away now in time and place. But in real time she was ravishing! Of course I remembered the words that a guard in an Italian museum once said to me: “Si vede, ma non si tocca!”

The gala was inspired by a costume ball held by the tsar in 1903 and after the music and dance performances in the theatre (I never knew there was one in the Hermitage!) a photo had to be taken of the guests from exactly the same spot as one hundred and ten years ago. Charles murmured something like: “Fourteen more years to go to the Revolution.” After the photo (The Lady in Green is on the bottom right) we went for a bite to eat: five courses of delicious food served to some hundred and fifty guests sitting at twenty tables. There was enough wodka to fill the Fontanka but I decided to stick to white wine. That was a good decision but I should not have smoked the cigarettes that were offered to me outside. The next morning they gave me a soar throat…

After the dinner there was a dance and after that there were more drinks outside. It was already twelve o’clock when I saw Ilya and Emilia coming out of the palace. They walked together across the courtyard to the main entrance: two tiny people in this huge baroque pomposity. Tomorrow they would fly to their next project in Graz. They always work. There is no time for holidays in their lives…


The show must go on…

July 2nd, 2013 by Willem Jan Renders

I have to get on with this blog because otherwise I am getting behind. Where were we? Oh yes: in St. Petersburg.

We were hurrying from the meeting in Kempinski to the press preview of the Lissitzky – Kabakov exhibition in the Hermitage.

It is not very far from Moika to the Winter Palace and we went in through the staff entrance along the Neva river. Of course there was the usual waiting for passes etc. I had some time to check if we were properly mentioned in the Russian press release and we were indeed: Музей Ван Аббе was there several times. But I did not find any mention of the Dutch – Russian Year 2013…

After a while we were led to the exhibition that is on the top floor, next to the rooms with the famous Matisse paintings of the Shchukin collection. It was very hot in these rooms, far too hot for our works on paper. Would this be sufficient reason to cancel the show at the spot and create a big scandal? Luckily the light intensity was brought down to an acceptable level. Let’s have a peaceful opening and hope for the best with regard to climate control on the upper floor of the Winter Palace during summer…

 The assistant of the department of communication came to me and asked if I would be willing to answer a question for Russian tv. I asked what the question would be (of course) and she said they wanted to know what the Dutch public thought of the Lissitzky – Kabakov exhibition. Now that is an easy question for me of course, because I live right next door to the Dutch public and it has told me many times what it thinks of the show. To make it easier for me I could answer in English. So I said that the Dutch public was very interested because the episode of Soviet art starting with Lissitzky and ending as it were with Kabakov is relatively unknown in the Netherlands. I wanted to say something else, but this was already enough. There is no place and time for any nuance in this medium. Make some nice pictures of crowded rooms and move on to the next ‘’item’. ‘Television’ means you can look very far. But what do you actually see?

Speaking of media: there were a lot of people making photographs of me and I asked myself why. Did they know who I was? And if so, am I that important? And also: do I want these people taking all these photographs of me? We are in the last evolutionary stage before collectively wearing Google Glasses. Everything that happens in our lives should be digitized and put online. And why? Because we continuously want to show the whole world what a marvelous life we lead…

After a while we were led out of the rooms to go to an adjoining room for the opening. There was a microphone and there were people that are really important: Ilya and Emilia Kabakov, Mikhail Piotrovsky and Charles Esche. There were even more photographers taking their pictures and they certainly did not mind. They accepted this phenomenon as a necessary part of their fame. And then of course there were a lot of people looking at what was going to happen. Many of them of course were just passing by on their way to the exit or looking for it (by no means easy to find from room 343). At once I noticed it was only one o’clock and the opening had been announced at two. I asked the communication assistant about his crucial timespan of one hour. It turned out to be the difference between the last digital proof of the invitation that we had sent by mail to people we wanted to invite and the real (printed) invitation card. All the guests from our part (four of them had indeed come from the Netherlands to St. Petersburg for the opening) would be one hour too late and had a lot of difficulty getting in.

Exactly at one o’clock the speeches started with a word of welcome by the director of the Hermitage. Our museum was mentioned again and Ilya and Emilia were praised. In short: “Thank you very much everyone!” Charles was next. He started by saying that while preparing this exhibition in the Van Abbemuseum we had not realized ourselves to prepare for the tropics. A nice way of telling that it was too hot in here for both people and works of art. And after that one of his favourite themes: “Museums re-write history by means of exhibitions”. This statement is certainly valid in this case, but there are other exhibitions we made that require more explanation for me in this respect. And of course Charles also concluded with a list of people to be thanked. “Especially Willem Jan Renders.” Thank you Charles!

In the mean time it got more and more crowded in room 343. Because people could not move through properly they moved dangerously close to paintings by Vuillard, Bonnard and Denis amongst others. And there was no one to watch these works. I saw people actually (and involuntarily) touching the surface of one of these paintings! To open the exhibition Ilya and Emila had to cut the traditional cord and at that moment many flashlights lit the room. Then the merry company entered the rooms temporarily dedicated to this exhibition (334-342). I went to the balcony of the Alexander Hall to get some fresh air and sat there for a while. When after some time I wanted to go to the end of the exhibition to avoid the crowd, I saw Ilya and Emilia coming towards me. They were completely anonymous in the crowd of tourist visitors while ten minutes ago they were the centre of attention. They were exhausted and told me they would go to their hotel. We would meet there this evening to go to the Gala of the White Nights.




But before I go on writing I would like some feedback from my readers (if any). I have put some time and effort in this report, so I would like to know if there is anyone interested in the rest of my St. Petersburg story. I have for you: ‘Discussing Long Term Lissitzky Loans’, ‘The Lady in Green at the Hermitage White Nights Gala’, ‘A Remarkable Visit to Mikhail Karasik’ and ‘Fortress Totleben’. The last one I will write only if I get that far, but I like the title already…

My dear reader, please let me know if you want me to go on writing.

If I hear nothing my story ends here.

Thanks for reading anyway!











Willem Jan Renders

Van Abbemuseum