Amsterdam Research Trip

Hallo!

This morning I woke up and was not in Amsterdam and let me tell you- I was disappointed. But at the same time, I was so so SO happy that my thesis research brought me to my favorite city for a wonderful week of museums, mayonnaise, and dancing. (For those who have not visited the Netherlands, the mayonnaise and music scene are out of this world).

Today I’d like to do something a little bit different. Instead of giving you an art historical analysis of an exhibit or a work of art (or even a DIY!), I am going to tell you about my wonderful week. After all, Canvas and Crumpets is about beautiful living, and my week in Amsterdam was the perfect combination of academic research and basking in the beauty of life. I’ll touch on my research, pointing to specific works and explaining how they contributed to my research process. However, I’ll be posing lots of open-ended questions about these works and leaving you to put some of the pieces together. Keep your eye out for a post later this week that answers a lot of these questions. For now, enjoy!

* * *

Day 0: I am referring to the day I landed as Day Zero because I went 34 hours without sleeping and spent a decent amount of it in bed. Additionally, the airline lost my luggage so I don’t know if this day deserves a positive number. However, my friends Sofi and Thijl took me to a Jewish Dutch Deli for breakfast after I landed. This was by far the standout of Day Zero. No, there are no pictures. I was too busy devouring my sandwich(es).

I also went to the zoo in between naps with my good friend Sofi. Here we are:

img_9757

Just kidding, here we are:

img_9750

I believe this day ended with me asleep by 20.00.

* * *

Day 1: I woke up bright and early to go to the Stedelijk Museum. When I was abroad, I was absolutely OBSESSED with the Stedelijk. This museum is where my thesis topic was born. It started as a research paper for one of my abroad classes, A Social History of the Netherlands. In April and May I spent about four hours a day, five days per week in the Stedelijk research library reading old documents. When I left Amsterdam, I decided to turn this research paper into my senior thesis.

The topic of the original research paper- and my senior thesis- is the art movement Cobra. Cobra stands for Copenhagen, Brussels, Amsterdam- the three cities from which the major members of this group originated. I am specifically focusing on the Dutch members of this group, and exploring how the socio-political atmosphere in the Netherlands following World War II led to the groups’ creation.

My research necessitated me returning to the Stedelijk, this time to perform visual analyses on several different works, rather than to visit the Stedelijk library. The museum feels like home to me, and I was beyond excited to go back.

I first took a look at some Mondrian paintings. The following is a work entitled Composition No. IV, with Red, Blue, and Yellow (1929). On the right is a detail of the viewer’s bottom left corner.

And here is another Mondrian work, entitled Lozenge Composition with Two Lines (1931).

IMG_9764.jpg

Mondrian was the founder of an important Dutch art movement called De Stijl. You can read a bit about the movement here. What characterizes De Stijl is an emphasis on geometry and primary colors. At the time of its founding in 1917, the movement was radical. It represented the next step in the breakdown of traditional art-making. Mondrian and De Stijl are important for my research because I am investigating the reasons that Cobra came about in the 1940s. De Stijl was the primary Dutch art style before Cobra, so it’s important for me to understand its theories and methodologies. Only then can I ascertain why the Cobra artists rejected De Stijl in favor of something new and different.

Take a look at these two works. What words would you use to describe them? How are line, color, shape, space, texture, and light utilized? These are called formal aspects, and they’re useful for comparing works.

Next, I went to the Cobra room, where I promptly almost fainted of happiness. The following is an incredible three-dimensional work entitled Cat, by Constant Nieuwenhuys (1948). Constant was one of the Dutch founders of Cobra, and one of the central artists in my research.

img_9790

Here I am looking more composed than I feel with Cat.

img_9809

I’ll be publishing a post soon where I go into detail about the progression of Dutch modernism through key works, so take a moment to think about how Cat compares to Composition No. IV or Lozenge Composition. How are the formal aspects utilized in different ways? And how does each work make you feel? Really focus on that sensation, as both Mondrian and Constant painted to evoke a sensation in the viewer. Furthermore, Constant actively despised Mondrian’s works. Why do you think this is?

Here is another Cobra work from this room entitled Questioning Children, by Karel Appel (1949).

img_9798

Here’s a detail of the three-dimensional work made from paint on wood.

img_9802

Appel and Constant worked closely together. What do Cat and Questioning Children share that Mondrian’s paintings lack?

Day 1 was made even more strange by my run-in with the famous Dutch talkshow host Humberto Tan. I was on my way to buy clothes (luggage was still not returned at this point) when he stopped me on the street and asked to take a photo of me for his street blog. I figured he was a photographer. Several screaming girls asking for selfies later and I realized he was a famous figure on Dutch TV. Go figure. Here we are smiling. You can still see the jet lag/confusion in my delirious eyes:

IMG_9811.jpg

* * *

Day 2: Day 2 was, essentially, the reason I came to the Netherlands. I called the Stedelijk museum several months ago to inquire about the works that would be on view at the museum in January. I was directed to the head of the offsite depot, where the entire Stedelijk collection is stored when it’s not on view. Museums only display a small fraction of all the works they own, so offsite depots are massive! The head of the Stedelijk depot informed me that, because I was doing research, I could request any works from the collection to study during my visit. I chose 7 paintings and 1 print, all by Dutch Cobra artists.

I arrived last Wednesday at noon feeling extremely excited. I had been looking at tiny thumbnails of these works on my computer screen, and I was about to see them in person! The building itself was very imposing, with barbed wire and an electronic gate. My taxi driver actually asked me if I was visiting someone in prison.

Anyways, I walked into the viewing room and was completely stunned for several seconds. The colors of these paintings were more vivid than I’d imagined. They leapt out at me like they were alive, swimming within the confines of their wooden frames. Here’s a snapshot of a portion of the paintings I selected:

img_9829

And here I am feeling rather posh between two of my favorite works:

img_9848

Now, two of the works that I selected were oil paintings by Karel Appel, painted before Cobra. Sitting Girl and Sailor Girl were both created in 1946. Take a look and answer this question: What styles or artists do these works remind you of?

Sitting Girl reminds me of Modigliani’s manneristic portraits of women with elongated necks. Compare Sitting Girl to Jeanne Hébuterne (1919). Sailor Girl reminds me of Picasso’s simplified, deconstructed figures. Do you see a similar utilization of line and color in Picasso’s Girl Before a Mirror (1932)?

I was interested in looking at these two works because I am demonstrating in my thesis that the future members of Dutch Cobra did try out the styles of different contemporary artists. What they found- which is well documented in their published periodicals- was that these styles were not sufficient vehicles of self-expression. They rejected cubism. They rejected all kinds of genres. In order to show that Cobra was a result of the socio-political climate of the Netherlands following WWII, I must first explain that contemporary modes of expression were inadequate for artists struggling with the social and political conditions in Holland.

The following work is perhaps the most haunting of all. Constant Nieuwenhuys painted Concentration Camp (War) in 1950.

img_9837

How do you feel looking at this painting? I imagine rather sad, especially given the fact that the title is Concentration Camp (War). Yet the sadness comes from within the painting. It does not feel as if the title were slapped on like a price tag. How does Constant achieve this mood? How does he manipulate line, color, shape, space, light, and texture to evoke sadness? I was particularly struck by the use of line and shape to create otherworldly beings with whom I feel an empathetic and spiritual connection.

I also was shaken by another of Constant’s eerie paintings, The War (1950).

img_9839

Are you starting to see similarities in the subject matter of Dutch Cobra art? Remember that 75% of the Dutch Jewish population were killed in the Holocaust. Hundreds of thousands of non-Jewish Dutchmen died when German blockades caused famine in the last winter of the war. This was a population that had known suffering and death. It’s not surprising that the Dutch Cobra artists felt compelled to express their pain by depicting these dark subjects.

But what about the style of these works? Are you starting to see trends regarding the formal aspects of Dutch Cobra art? In The War, the outstretched arm of the central figure captivates my gaze. It is very much alive, reaching into the air against a backdrop of fire and decay, though it sits atop a mound of dead creatures. This dichotomy is gruesome yet compelling and utterly devastating.

Here are the last three works I studied. The top left is Constant’s Dead Cows (1951). The top right is Constant’s Scorched Earth (1951). (For all my history buffs out there, think about the term ‘scorched earth’ and how it was applied as a military tactic in the Second World War.) The gouache print at the bottom is Cornielle’s Composition (1948).

The Dutch Cobra paintings really are beautiful, aren’t they? Yet they also manage to be uncanny, sad, gruesome, and desperate, sometimes all at the same time. I think that’s why I like them so much. I am fascinated by their historical context, but also by the tension within each work. It is as if the artist himself couldn’t decide if he was hopeful about the future or resigned to the death of humanity.

After my four hour visit to the Depot I met up with my Dutch language teacher, Lisa. She took me for coffee and then to her work borrel. A borrel is a Dutch party for a specific group of people. You could have a tennis borrel for the members of the tennis team, or an art history borrel for art history students. I met all of the creative people she works with at this fun party! Here we are smiling:

* * *

Day 3: I woke up on Thursday at the Hilton Apollolaan, where I spent two of my seven nights in Amsterdam. The rest of the time I stayed with Sofi. Here I am wearing a coat I impulsively bought the day before from Daily Paper, ready to start the day:

img_9853

I headed south to Amstelveen, the city right below Amsterdam, to visit the Cobra Museum.  This museum is entirely devoted to the works of the Cobra artists, including the Dutch, Danish, and Belgian contingents of the group. My intention in visiting the Cobra Museum was to perform visual analyses on the works of Danish artists. After the Dutch artists rejected De Stijl, cubism, and a number of other genres, they encountered the Danish Expressionists. This interaction led to the creation of Cobra and the development of the works like Concentration Camp (war) and Dead Cows.

Carl-Henning Pedersen painted Salomon’s Kingdom in 1939. Take a look:

img_9854

Do you see a relationship between this painting and the works by the Dutch Cobra artists? Does Pedersen handle formal aspects in the same way? How does his subject matter compare? I am particularly drawn to a quality of creaminess on the painting’s surface that is missing from the rougher Cobra works… but I see a lot of similarities in color and shape. What do you think?

The following is a painting by Egill Jacobsen entitled Sea (1947).

img_9863

And here is an untitled work by Asger Jorn painted in 1949.

img_9875

Just by looking at Sea and Untitled, it is clear that the Danish artists (and the Dutch artists, for that matter), were not clones painting identical pictures. The point in comparing works is not to conclude that the whole movement painted the same subjects with same color palette, but to draw connections between works that point to a larger ideology and methodology. Sea and Untitled could not be more different in their utilization of color, but what about shape? There are haunting eyes, formed from small bubbles of color, in both works. When I look at both paintings, I have the uncomfortable sensation of being watched. See what other connections you can come up with!

* * *

Days 4, 5, 6: I only had three days of research which left three days for visiting old friends and enjoying the city. However, as I left the hotel to go to my friend’s apartment, I started chatting with the concierge. And wouldn’t you know it, he agreed to take me on a tour of John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s famous honeymoon suite. Instead of going about and enjoying Amsterdam, the couple spent their honeymoon in bed, protesting the war. They called this the “bed-in for peace.” You can read more about this story here. I took lots of pictures of the suite. Take a look!

img_9905

img_9913

And of course I had to get a picture of myself in the suite. I wanted to lie down on the bed and pose but didn’t think that’d go over too well with housekeeping, so I went for this pose instead:

img_9914

My last three days were an absolute whirlwind. I went to my favorite Dutch restaurant, Moeder’s, for traditional Dutch fare with my friend Tiemen. I went back to my old dorm with my old suitemate Ellie who has since moved to her own place in Amsterdam. I cooked dinner with Ellie and our other friend Thijmen, and many meals with my host, Sofi. I reconnected with some friends I lost touch with and we went out dancing to my favorite club, De School. On my last night, Sofi took me to her favorite bar and I got to meet all her friends! Here’s a little collage of my time spent with wonderful friends last week:

I also managed to spend all my emergency money on clothing. If you’re in Amsterdam and in need of some clothes to wear because your suitcase was also left in Dublin, check out The Girl Can’t Help It, a 1950s-style boutique. Also stop in to T.I.T.S. for whimsical, feminist designs and Nobody Has to Know for ageless, genderless, and sizeless clothing.

* * *

That’s all for now! I hope you enjoyed reading about my research trip to Amsterdam. I have been mostly writing exhibition reviews as of late, and it made me quite happy to share my everyday adventures with you all as well. Perhaps I’ll make a habit of it! Like I always say, inject art and happiness into your life at every possible moment.

Until next time!

xoxo, Chloe ❤

8

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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:

IMG_4268

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:

IMG_4281

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.

 *  *  *

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

IMG_4272

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.

*  *  *

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

IMG_4277

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?

*  *  *

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.

* * *

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 ❤