Figurative surprises – sculpture biennial ARTZUID in Amsterdam
First of all, thank you very much for taking time to speak to us about the ARTZUID! When I read through the list of artists exhibiting in Amsterdam, I stumbled across big names like Anish Kapoor, Jean Dubuffet and Erwin Wurm. Then there are also a few of our network members: Eja Siepman van den Berg, Jerzy Kedziora, Johan Tahon plus some other names, I have to be honest, I have never heard of. So, I was wondering: how did you choose the artists for the biennial? What was the process behind your decisions?
Well, of course you do not know all the names on the list and that’s good, because you get to know new artists! For me it is a lot about connection. We were following two different basic concepts. All the sculptures are to be shown open air. We want to build up a connection between the artworks and the surrounding architecture and gardens. In doing so there is a connection between things that are already there, like the plants and the buildings, and the sculptures that are being placed at certain points in the area. Plus of course, there is an interaction between the different works of art as well. For example, we will be putting up three works by the Austrian artist Erwin Wurm close to works of the Berlin based Dutch artist Henk Visch. This constellation will build up a certain type of connection between the sculptures.
The second basic concept is a kind of history of figurative sculptures in modern and contemporary art – different approaches to a figurative language. As the focus is not on abstract works, we hope that it will be made easier for a bigger audience to approach the sculptures and enjoy the exhibition.
Still, some of the artworks are not figurative within a traditional definition. For example, Anish Kapoors sculptures. We will present some of his works with mirrors. They are basically abstract – but what do you see in the mirrors? Yes, yourself, a figure, and your figurative surroundings. We will try to show different ways of approaching the figurative.
While a lot of artists and art events are reacting to difficult political and social situations right now, your aim is that visiting the ARTZUID will be like wandering through extravagant gardens which provide enjoyment and surprises – so a very positive and optimistic approach. What led to your decision to emphasize the entertaining and positive power three-dimensional art can have; to combine art and spectacle?
Art can be joyful; it gives us comfort and fun. It’s about learning and pleasure. After diving into art or an art experience you get thrown back into reality with a different contemplation on your life. My personal approach to art is a little bit of both. Not losing the connection to the sometimes quite harsh reality, but also seeing the positive, enlightening and connecting power art can have through surprise and fun. This allows us to develop a different perspective to look at our world. When I look at paintings and cuttings by Matisse it gives me pleasure and comfort – gardens and art both spark these feelings and you learn more whenever you spend time within one or the other.
What other highlights can we expect at the exhibition?
The Belgium artist Jan Fabre will present seven golden bath tubs in one of the gardens.
So as the exhibition is open 24/7, if it rains, I could take a bath in the middle of the night?
[laughs] I hope people won’t do that but in theory, it’s possible.
The ARTZUID is curated by a duo – yourself and Michiel Romeyn. At first glance you seem like two very different individuals: an author and an actor, having a passion for art in common.
How would you describe your roles in working together as curators?
Well Michiel is not just an actor but also an artist, even if people tend to only know him from television and his kind of absurd programs where he makes things ridiculous in his own kind of way. Together we did an art program on national television, so we have known each other for quite a while – 10 or maybe 12 years. We each know how the other one works, and we have kind of the same taste. Not exactly the same but we harmonize very well. There is not much arguing going on. We have this click – working together comes naturally to us, in a flow. And we both really liked the concept, which was set by the Foundation ARTZUID, of the figurative focus in the gardens.
What do you hope visitors will experience when strolling through these special art gardens?
That people can look at life from various perspectives. Having a reaction like when entering a beautiful garden and thinking, “My God, this is an experience that makes me better equipped for my reality!”.
The biennial will open on May 17th. What is still on your to-do list?
We are running to a very tight schedule but until now everything is going as planned. At the moment we are waiting for all the sculptures to actually arrive in Amsterdam and then be able to do the fine tuning of positioning. At that stage we will be getting very close to the opening and the photos will have to be taken for the catalogue which will be printed at the very last moment to have it as up to date as possible. So I can only hope that is doesn’t rain then!
Author: Elisabeth Pilhofer
Munich based freelance editor and curator talked to Jhim for us and is now hoping to fit in a trip to Amsterdam in summer to be surprised by sculptures by day and night.
Cover picture: Elsa Tomkowiak, Passages Insolites (2016), Courtesy: The Merchant House