100 Years of Unbeatable Artistic Experimentation
XXth Century uses both major historical events like the Wall Street Crash and the Russian revolution and lesser ones like the arrival of the steam railway on Walcheren to suggest the context in which untiring artistic experimentation transformed the face of Western art. In outstanding works by artists like Mesdag, Toorop, Van Doesburg, Picasso, Constant, Mondrian, Lewitt, Merz, Lüpertz and Baselitz, it reveals a world inward-looking at the start of the period but increasingly interested in new external developments as time went on. The vast display of modern and contemporary art fill two entire floors of Gemeentemuseum's main building.
The leitmotiv of XXth Century is the constant urge of individuals and groups to look at reality in a new way. Artists became aware that perception varies from one person to another and one society to another and sought ways of reflecting this diversity in their work. A good example is the opening work in the exhibition: Piet Mondrian’s 1909 Luminist painting, Lighthouse at Westkapelle — an optimistic, Pointillist picture in which the artist seeks to capture the effect of light by applying the paint to the canvas in separate dabs of colour. As the century progressed, the concept of reality became steadily more diverse and personal.
The Expressionism of Egon Schiele, the Magic Realism of artists like Carel Willink, the Cubism of Pablo Picasso, the abstraction of De Stijl, the Pop Art of Andy Warhol, the Minimal Art of Donald Judd, Dan Flavin and Sol Lewitt, the Conceptual Art of Joseph Beuys and Bruce Naumann are all attempts to get a grip on the slippery term ‘reality’. By the end of the century, artists were choosing their own version of reality and their own approach to it. Daniël Richter, for example, combines elements taken from history and art history, the mass media and fantasy to produce an entirely individual and inventive style of painting. Jörg Immendorff – scarcely a generation earlier — believes that artists should use painting to convey political messages.
And how do artists relate to politics and society? Should they turn their backs on them or can that self-chosen isolation actually imply a form of social and political engagement? XXth Century shows that mass culture versus individualism and love of tradition versus the desire for progress were the poles between which artists — and, indeed, other people — constantly oscillated and made their choices in each new phase of the twentieth century.
Although the history of art always tends to be presented as a straight line, with movements succeeding each other in chronological order, this is not in fact how it happened. The exhibition uses six anchor points in the form of audiovisual presentations to demonstrate that the barrage of artistic developments in the twentieth century cannot be viewed in isolation from major historical events like the two World Wars, the social revolution of the 1960s, the Cold War and the century’s economic crises. The twentieth century was not only a time of change; it was also a time of connections and continuities. That is why the nineteenth century is also a strong presence in the exhibition; it was, after all, only in the twentieth century that its identity was discovered and examined.
20th Centiury >
Egon Schiele (1890-1918), Portret van Edith (de vrouw van de kunstenaar) / Portrait of Edith (the painter’ s wife), detail, 1915, olieverf op doek / oil on canvas, 180,2 x 110,1 cm.
Paolo Veronese, Venus with a Mirror (Venus at Her Toilette), mid 1580s, Joslyn Art Museum, detail.
Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese, Venetian Rivals
Amidst high drama and intense rivalry, the great triumvirate — Titian, Tintoretto, and Veronese — dominated the landscape of Venetian painting in the 16th century for almost four decades. Fifty-seven notable works are featured in the exhibition.
Titian, Tintoretto, Veronese >>
Joachim Anthonisz. Wtewael, Dutch, 1566-1638, Cephalus and Procris, c. 1595-1600, detail.
Old Masters in Light of Day at Pulitzer Foundation
The Pulitzer has joined forces with Harvard and Saint Louis Art museums to present Old Master paintings and drawings from their collections. The selection comprises artworks by artists from the 14th to the 18th centuries.
Old Masters >>
Ammi Phillips (1788-1865, Vicinity of Amenia, New York), Woman with Pink Ribbons, c. 1830, detail.
Two Artists with a Similar Disposition to Light
Ammi Phillips (1788-1865) and Mark Rothko (1903-1970), two American masters disparate in time, place, and presentation, pursued the soul-thirsting creation of inner light through the "realm of the canvas," as Rothko once termed it.
Ammi Phillips >>
Philip Sadée (1837-1904), The Poor Man’s Lot, 1901, detail.
The Nature of Works from the Hague School
Hague School oil paintings and works on paper yield a wealth of information about Dutch life in the latter half of the 19th century. All stages of the human life cycle are represented, from earliy childhood, with parents introducing children to the world, to lonely and melancholy old age. Shifting the focus from style to content.
The Hague School >>
Plays with the Reality
of the Content
Both Paolo Ventura and Jasper de Beijer play with reality in their photographs. After all, a photograph shows what is seen through the lens. However, what if that is not actually reality, but a specially constructed version of reality? In his series War Souvenir and Winter Stories Ventura photographed events that he himself had never witnessed, bringing them to life with miniatures, scale models and dioramas. Jasper de Beijer goes even further: he makes life-size, three-dimensional models — often of paper — which he then photographs, producing images reminiscent of Victorian prints. Fabulous Fictions shows us that, in their work, nothing is what it seems.
Paolo Ventura and Jasper de Beijer, masters of narrative staged photography, do not use their camera in the traditional way, recording the world around them. They use it to tell their own stories. Drawing inspiration from the past, both these artists create their own universe, with great attention to detail and using enormous skill to produce sets and props that are almost artworks in themselves. By photographing these imagined worlds from the right angle, Ventura manages to convince us that we are part of the scene, while in De Beijer’s images we are not sure what we are really looking at: a print, an installation, another world?
Paolo Ventura (b. Milan 1968) comes from an artistic family, and was originally a fashion photographer. His current work differs perhaps less from his fashion work than might at first appear. Both depict created or recreated worlds that do not actually exist. Two of his series will be on show in Fabulous Fictions. Winter Stories (2008) tells the story of a man in the final moments before his death, as he looks back on his life, in theatrical photographs that evoke the magical, mysterious atmosphere of Fellini’s films. In War Souvenir (2005), Ventura photographs not the moment of action itself, but the events just before or after.
Jasper de Beijer (b. Amsterdam 1973) often takes months to produce a single photograph, building the scene in minute and perfect detail. In the series The Riveted Kingdom (2008) he revives the Victorian Britain of the industrial revolution in a world made of steel wire and paper. He seems to have the same irresistible urge to build as the 19th-century architects who built both the Crystal Palace and housing for the working class. The series Udongo (2009), on show to the public for the first time in Fabulous Fictions, is entirely different, however. On a trip to Ghana De Beijer was struck by the fact that Africa looks nothing like the exotic, Western image he had from photographs and stories. Life was just as banal there as it was at home. Back in his studio, he built a jungle set with life-size dummies which he photographed, approaching it not as a cultural anthropologist would, but in a way that gives us another picture of Africa which, despite the constructed scenes, actually appears more real than the photographs we normally see of the continent and its people.
20th Centiury >
Paolo Ventura, Winter Stories # 48, 2008, Digital C-print, 100 x 125 cm, Courtesy FORMA - Centro Internazionale di Fotografia, Milano.