On Friday my old classmate, painter Harm van den Berg, gave me a private tour of the exhibit, Door Schildersogen (officially translated as From a Painter's Perspective, but I like "Through Painter's Eyes" better), he co-curated at Arti et Amicitae. (The show includes a painting by him.) The exhibit, which closes soon, presents a painter's selection of thirty-two contemporary painters that work or are trained in the Netherlands. The exhibit is a self-conscious step away from conceptual art, spectacle, and the recent fascination with disaster tourism (recall here and here). Even Holland's master-disaster-artist-tourist-guide, Ronald Ophuis, is presented with a more standard portrait. (Unsurprisingly, some critics have called the exhibit, which includes a mixture of very abstract and more representational art, "boring.") In this post I focus on two of the cityscape paintings in the exhibit:
Jaring Lokhorst's NYC:
Spoelder is among the most accomplished of the artists in the exhibit. And her painting offers just about the only recognizably Dutch 'scene' in the exhibit: it took me a while to realize that the promiment, vertical beam through the middle of the painting is itself an ugly flat. (Initially I thought that the flat in the back on the left of the painting was the subject of the painting.) Initially I interpreted the windowless flat as a kind of Mondriaan-barrier which was preventing the viewer from seeing what was really there--a kind of inviting metaphore to look (beyond the painterly past) closer.
Most of Spoelder's cityscapes are prettier than this painting, but the faded, bright colors on the right of Flat allow us to imagine that the inhabitants of the flat have a better view than us looking at it. (Sometimes life is more beautiful than art.) Even so, this introvert portrayal of the ordinary ugliness of the part of Holland unvisited by tourists is an impotant counterweight to the self-congratulatory propaganda emanating from Dutch architects and designers (who love to talk about civil society).
It is perhaps not strange that I 'refused to see' what was right in front of me in Spoelder's painting because I grew up in Buitenveldert surrounded by such flats built in the sixties and seventies in the garden suburbs of Amsterdam. Here's a picture of one such flat:
Of course, Dutch flats never inspire the imaginary hold of New York skyscrapers. Even so the NYC flat I knew from within was my grandparents' one in Parker Towers, Queens. I wonder what Spoelding would make of it: