News — 16 Dec 2019

At the end of next year, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam will mount a solo exhibition by the German-Dutch artist Ulay. Although famous for his long term collaboration with his former partner Marina Abramović (1976-1988), in the years before and after, he created a profound and radical solo oeuvre. This is the first exhibition to be mounted by Rein Wolfs, who joined the Stedelijk as director in December.

Key factors in the work of the artist Ulay (Frank Uwe Laysiepen, Solingen, Germany, 1943) are processes of (chemical) change, switching between identities, and embracing uncertainty and chance. From the outset of his artistic career, Ulay’s work engaged with the world at large, articulating an intense and very immediate relationship with social change and with the unfolding of (recent) histories. Ulay settled in Amsterdam in the late nineteen sixties, when the city was a hotbed of experiment both socially and politically, and in the arena of the visual artists. Ulay’s ties with Amsterdam remain to this day; he still spends part of his time living and working in the city. Over the years, the Stedelijk bought work by Ulay, as well as pieces that date from his collaboration with Marina Abramović.

Ulay, 'Self-portrait', Amsterdam, 1972.  Gelatine silver print, 22,5 x 18,5 cm, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam
Ulay, 'Self-portrait', Amsterdam, 1972. Gelatine silver print, 22,5 x 18,5 cm, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Ulay’s work exists on the intersection of photography and the conceptually-focused approaches of performance and body art. Polaroid photos, unique objects and, in his case, often exceptionally large images, are fundamental to his oeuvre. This show pivots around four themes that amplify the contemporary relevance of Ulay’s work: his focus on performance and the performative aspects of photography; his research into gender identity and the body as a medium; his engagement with social and political issues and his relationship with Amsterdam.

Rein Wolfs: “Given the mounting interest in performance art it’s time to re-evaluate the history of the discipline and the backgrounds of the artists who shaped it. Ulay, also during his collaborative years with Marina Abramović, has been a prominent figure in performance and body art since the nineteen seventies. He used his identity and body as his medium. With its rich history and deep expertise in performance art, the Stedelijk is renewing its commitment to the art form to affirm the art form’s topical significance.”