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News — 3 Sep 2009

Can a collection be rendered visible at a time when it is away and out of sight …? 

This question is the point of departure for the Visibly Absent project, organised by 

the Stedelijk Museum in collaboration with the Rietveld Academy and the Sandberg Institute. In this third edition, students will give icons from the Stedelijk’s modern art and design collection a highly unusual visible presence in the city’s new Zuidas district. Their works are in response to iconic works by great artists like Marcel Duchamp, Claes Oldenburg, Bruce Nauman, Anselm Kiefer, Jeff Koons, Mario Merz, Daniel Spoerri and Gilbert & George.

Following the success of earlier editions in the heart of the city and around the RAI congress centre during Art Amsterdam, the projects in this edition will be concentrated almost exclusively in the busy Zuidas commercial district of Amsterdam. This part of the city provides an unusual setting for art, especially in the current economic climate. Its high-rise office blocks are generally home to the world of international finance – how can art justify its existence in this context? The artists’ interventions in the district’s public open spaces will allow plenty of scope for viewers’ own interpretations and associations. 

Passersby will be greeted from afar by Viola Renate’s interpretation of Claes Oldenburg’s Soft Ladder, Hammer, Saw and Bucket. Whereas Oldenburg disconcerted viewers by translating rigid everyday objects into soft textile, Renate (Sandberg Institute) will emphasise the strength of such objects by suspending a paper ladder, hammer, saw and bucket from the walls of large office blocks. 

Near the current location of the Stedelijk’s Construction Cabin, to be sited from 2 to 19 September on Gustav Mahlerplein, visitors will encounter a project based on a work by Jeff Koons. Matthias Schreiber (Sandberg Institute) has translated Koons’ Ushering in Banality into an inflatable far larger than the original work. The size of her variant confers a conceptual character on the piece. Its inflatable nature is a reference to Koons, who has himself produced such works. In Schreiber’s version, Koons’ criticism of the consumer society will now float freely over the business centre of Amsterdam.

Maartje Smits (Rietveld Academy) will use the chalk used to mark out football pitches to inscribe the name bbbbbbrrrrrruuuuuucccccceeeeee on an area of grass in Gustav-Mahlerlaan. The word itself will only be visible from a great height. Since the work is a reference to Bruce Nauman’s My Name as Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon, its effect will be to insert the name of an artist among the plethora of trade names and brands that fill the Zuidas district. The suggestion of handwriting will give it a personal character that will increase the contrast with the impersonal setting. 

Vincent Verhoef and Caroline Ruijgrok (Rietveld Academy) draw their inspiration from Gordon Matta-Clark, who became famous in the 1970s for his "building cuts," a series of works in which he removed sections of floors, ceilings and walls to turn buildings into walk-through art objects. Verhoef and Ruijgrok take this concept one step further: they plan to suspend a wooden summerhouse from a crane on the south side of Gustav Mahlerlaan and let it smash to the ground at the opening on 11 September. The remains of the structure will lie there until the end of the project period.

Femke Herregraven (Sandberg Institute) takes Anselm Kiefer’s painting Innenraum, replete with references to the guilt-ridden history of Germany, as her point of departure. Herregraven focuses specifically on the photograph of Albert Speer’s Rijkskanzlei building that Kiefer used as the basis for his painting. Her 15 x 9-metre version shows how the status of a building can change. Kiefer’s painting refers to idealistic architecture and has political connotations – but is that true of the architecture of the Zuidas district? 

Henrik van Leeuwen (Sandberg Institute) has been prompted by Mario Merz’s From Honey to Ashes to build an igloo from documents relating to the current financial crisis. He has adorned them with handwritten texts showing the Fibonacci numerical sequence, sometimes seen as governing nature. Merz regarded the igloo as an archetypal form of shelter for nomadic man. Will anyone dare to bivouac in this igloo on the city’s Southern Axis? Can humanity be found in its primordial condition in this part of the city? Is it even possible to survive here in the wild? 

In 1923, Theo van Doesburg and Kurt Schwitters made a triumphal Dadaist tour of Holland that linked poetry, prose, music, performance and Dada philosophy to the visual arts. To commemorate that event, Linde Keja and Willem Sjoerd van Vliet (Rietveld Academy) are organising a new Dada soirée on Wednesday 23 September, to take place at exactly the same venue as the notorious original: the Bellevue Theatre on the Leidsekade. The evening’s Dadaist entertainments will be provided by well-known literary figures and students from the Language and Image Department at the Rietveld Academy. To publicise the event, Keja and Van Vliet have designed a poster directly based on the original one produced by Van Doesburg and Schwitters. 

Daniel Spoerri’s Table du Restaurant de la City Galerie has also inspired plans for a playful communal happening. The original iconic work is a readymade comprising the remains of a dinner eaten in a Zurich art gallery in 1965. In response to it, Sjim Hendrix (Rietveld Academy) plans to hold a large-scale dinner composed of exotic ingredients, to be held in the Vesteda apartment building in Claude Debussylaan on the opening evening of Visibly Absent

Alma Mathijsen (Rietveld Academy) has selected Gilbert & George’s film Gordon’s Makes Us Drunk as the starting point for her project. The film by the famous artist duo is accompanied by an almost unbearably ear-splitting soundtrack. Viewers will be offered an escape from it in the form of the Lucky Strikes and glasses of Gordon’s gin that Mathijsen will set out ready for them – at the risk of ending up the same way as the protagonists in the film… (project subject to confirmation). 

In the 1940s, Marcel Duchamp designed a small suitcase containing miniature replicas of his works: La boîte-en-valise. The artist thought that anyone seeing his miniature versions would inevitably want to see the originals. Roberta Petzoldt (Rietveld Academy) thought this was a brilliant idea and has turned it into a short film of an artist presenting people with his suitcase full of art works in an attempt to persuade them to go and see the originals. The film will be shown on the Contemporary Art Screen Zuidas, near the WTC railway station.

At another train station, Amsterdam Central, passengers using the main underpass will be treated to a variety of Dadaist travel information. Just as in the Dada works of ninety years ago, the key features of the event will be confusion, nonsense and cacophony. The illuminated signs will certainly prove diverting for passengers – in one way or another. A project by Linde Keja & Willem Sjoerd van Vliet (Rietveld Academy). 

Me at the Stedelijk is an on-going feature of Visibly Absent: thanks to Isabel Lucena (Sandberg Institute), visitors can use a ‘green screen’ in the Construction Cabin to project images of themselves into one of the exhibition spaces in the old Stedelijk Museum. This makes it possible once again to stand face to face with favourite works by De Kooning, Kiefer, Warhol, Lichtenstein and Appel. The resulting photographs can be downloaded from www.stedelijkindestad.nl/meatthestedelijk.

The Stedelijk’s Construction Cabin will be located during this third edition of Visibly Absent, from 2 to 19 September, on Gustav Mahlerplein. Programming will once again be geared to the location; it will include the Urban Screen Festival, to be held in collaboration with the Virtual Museum Amsterdam during the weekend of 4 and 5 September, as well as a variety of workshops, lunch-time talks and gatherings. The complete programme can be found on www.stedelijkindestad.nl

Visibly Absent is intended both to provide the general public with a reminder of (or introduction to) the Stedelijk’s collection and to maintain the museum’s relationship with the city’s art education institutions in an inspirational way. The project curator is Marten Jongema of the Stedelijk Museum.

The project is accompanied by a free programme booklet containing background information on the projects and details of the entire event. Copies are available from the Stedelijk’s Construction Cabin or can be downloaded from www.stedelijkindestad.nl. Visibly Absent is part of Stedelijk goes to Town, the umbrella event enabling the Stedelijk to project its nomadic presence in the city during its period of temporary homelessness. News about the exhibition can be found on www.stedelijkindestad.nl. 

Visibly Absent is sponsored by:  

Rietveld Academy, Language and Image Department 

Sandberg Institute, Design Department