The Awesome (The Public House of Art- Amsterdam)

After being here in Amsterdam for almost two weeks, I finally visited an art gallery (a whole bunch of art galleries, actually). I’ve spent two weeks getting fully oriented by not one, not two, but three orientation programs here in the Netherlands. I won’t bore you with the details, but the fact of the matter is I am DONE with scavenger hunts, DONE with awkward ice-breakers and DONE with hostel bathrooms. I am free to do what I will with my days.

Which means: I am about to be eating a lot more brunch and seeing a lot more art!

One of the galleries places I visited yesterday is called The Public House of Art. It is very adamant about its identity as NOT a gallery, but rather, a house in which affordable art is sold to everyone who is passionate about it. At the Public House of Art, there are four price brackets for buyers: 100 euro, 350 euro, 750 euro, and 1500 euro. I look forward to treating myself to a painting in the first price point by the end of my trip. Check out this video from the Public House of Art’s website, comedically explaining how they are different from typical art galleries.

The playful vibe of the House (I will be referring to it as a house from now on, so as to remind you all that it is not, not, not a gallery!) is emphasized by cheeky posters framed all over the space. Near the entrance is a sign that reads:

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I will be looking out for openings at the Public House of Art…

On the wall next to a row of photographs is a sign that looks like this:

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I enjoy these signs because they match the non-pretentious vibe of the House. They make the visitor- who might feel uncomfortable in a traditional gallery- feel welcomed.

This particular exhibit, “The Awesome,” is a collection of works by different artists reflecting on the phrase, “totally awesome.” In the catalogue book about the exhibit, the curators write, “the awesome became cheap, you can buy them online, subscribe to them, download them, refresh them.” They ask, “can an image still confound us, amaze us, leave us in awe?”

The answer, it seems, is yes. And the artists of the Public House of Art have responded to this question with images that reveal the awesome, despite their ability to be photographed, reproduced, and reloaded. There may be thirty limited edition copies produced of every work of art, but that does not make the content of these works any less awesome.

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Here is one of my favorite works in the House, entitled “Yuddith, 9:15 AM,” by Henri Senders.

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This print celebrates the female form and the female spirit. Yuddith’s skin glows in the ethereal light. Patches of sunlight highlight the curves of her hip and her breasts, as well as the tip of her nose and forehead. Her magenta hair brings out the pink undertones of her skin, and contrasts deeply with the barren gray wasteland behind her. Yuddith looks up and away from the viewer, allowing the viewer to consume her without feeling guilty or ashamed. Yuddith’s hands are positioned oddly in the air. There is too much tension in her fingers for her hands to be floating. Rather, they appear to be pressing against an invisible wall- perhaps a glass one. If so, she is trapped, naked in the wilderness. And yet she is remarkably calm. Her raised chin and closed eyes are the picture of sensual freedom. The image is a fantasy for the projected heterosexual male viewer. There is a beautiful, naked, otherworldly woman prancing about in the woods, unable to come any closer to the viewer due to some invisible barrier. Though the viewer desires her, she is untouchable. We look in awe upon her, and thus we carry out Henri Senders’ intention: that the female body and spirit be seen as awesome, despite the fact that images of the female nude are commonplace in society. “Yiddish, 9:15 AM” reveals more about a woman’s sensuality than a Playboy cut-out or a pornographic scene. It uses tiny details to form a string of associations in the mind of the viewer. Pink hair, pink skin, blurry exposure, an invisible glass wall- are all more titillating and awe-inspiring than any Victoria’s Secret advertisement.

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I am also quite fond of this work, a mixed-media piece by Lola Cervant called “Harlequin.”

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The name of this work, Harlequin, is a response to the way the girl’s hands create a mask on her face. A Harlequin is a character from an Italian theatre style called Commedia dell’Arte, in which characters wore masks to indicate which role they were playing. The audience could identify a character purely by the mask he wore. The matte, pastel pink hue of the girl’s finger-mask contrasts with the grey pencil shading in the contours of her face.  The effect is a kind of oscillation between front and back. It is difficult to focus on both her twisting pink fingers and her eyes all at once. Her wrists appear less solid than her carefully shaded lips. One struggles to find something to grab onto here; it is as if this girl lives in a plane where different dimensions can exist simultaneously.

As I stared at this work, I became less and less certain that the model was a young girl. Her slightly parted lips and intense gaze bear a maturity and sensuality not known by the prepubescent. Perhaps the mask of her hands helps to disguise her true age, and transitively, her true identity. It is ironic, then, that her name is Harlequin, because the Harlequin’s mask serves to identify him to the audience. This Harlequin mask hides her. Identity, then, is that awesome thing Cervant wants us to consider- a set of characteristics that we set aside to put into a category. If something is missing- a face, an age- can we still make sense of the whole?

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I have always been fond of psychedelic art, and was pleased to see it well represented at the Public House of Art. Here are two works that I found especially trippy and awesome:

Eugenia Loli’s “Moonstroke (Until the End of Time) and “Sunday” can be interpreted as depictions of an acid trip. While this is undoubtedly true, Loli takes the trope of the LSD moonscape and turns into something else, that reveals both the awesomeness of a hallucinogenic trip and the awesomeness of humanity.

In “Moonstroke,” a boy caresses a female whose face and arms have been replaced with a psychedelic blue fabric. All of the tiny details make for a trippy image- the pom poms on the girl’s dress, the rocky landscape, and the suburban boy are all tropes of psychedelic art or details meant to interest the wandering mind. And yet one still feels as if he or she walked in on a young couple enraptured by each other.

“Moon stroke” is actually a lesson in tenderness. Despite the fact that we know nothing about these unidentifiable strangers, we can sense the softness with which the boy cradles the girl’s back. While we cannot see the girl’s face, the boy looks right through her blue patterned skin, as if he can see something that we cannot. They are isolated in some rocky landscape, as people often feel when they are young and in love, together. It feels as if there is no one else on the planet. Perhaps what is so awesome about young love is the way it makes people see stars, and feel as if they are walking on the moon.

“Sunday,” has just as many trippy motifs. Half the picture is created from black-and-white images, while the other half is technicolor. The sun is rimmed with red, and the blue sky becomes less and less saturated as it approaches the horizon. Whimsical hot air balloons dot the landscape. Black-and-white images of little boys are perched in the sand like cardboard cut-outs.

Beyond the psychedelic fascination with earth vs. sky, there is also a hint of nostalgia in “Sunday.” The title alone evokes a carefree day of play and trips to the beach to watch the hot air balloons fly close to the sun. Old-fashioned images carry inherent nostalgia in them, their grainy exposure recalling simpler days when it was harder to preserve a moment on camera.

The two boys in “Sunday” look up at the sky in awe. How awesome is it, for a little boy or a grown one, to understand the humans can fly so seemingly close to the sun? That two-legged creatures can board a jet or a balloon and soar into the sky? When did we stop thinking about how totally AWESOME it is that HUMANS CAN FLY??!?!?!

“Sunday” is a simple reminder of the awesomeness of humankind, and the way that children are often the ones to remind us, in all their youthful wonder, how truly awesome the world is.

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Looking back, I wonder why I did not take more photographs in the Public House of Art. I suppose I was just enjoying looking at all the artwork so much that I simply forgot to take more pictures. But I do implore you to take a look on their website and take a look at these incredible works- so many I didn’t analyze here! Marvel at awesome photographs, sculptures, digital art, and paintings without becoming extremely depressed because you’re 20 and have a part time job at school but are currently abroad without a job and you just bought yourself a new coat because it’s cold in the Netherlands and tram tickets really add up and you can’t afford to buy the art you love.

If that described you half as well as it describes me, then you should really visit the Public House of Art.

Until next time!

 

xoxo, Chloe ❤

 

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