Amsterdam Art Weekend

This report from the Amsterdam Art Weekend appeared on artforum.com:

Left: ‘An Evening with Anthony McCall’ at EYE. (Photo: Dimer van Santen) Right: Artists Gabriel Lester, Laurent-David Garnier, and Carlotta Guerra. (Except where noted, all photos: Agnieszka Gratza)

A MAN WALKS into a bar and greets another: “Wasabi.”

What on earth does that mean? “What’s up,” artist Gabriel Lester had to spell it out for me.

The bar, furnished with slanted black wooden stools designed by Robert Wilhite to facilitate encounters rather than comfort, is the setting for BOB’s YOUR UNCLE, a recurring event at the back of the Kunstverein in Amsterdam’s lively De Pijp district. That Friday, warming saffron vodka cocktails as well as a pale cloudy concoction were being served, courtesy of perfumer-turned-artist Laurent-David Garnier. “Saffron is the new red,” he assured me.

Following on the heels of a slew of gallery openings the previous night that ushered in the third edition of the Amsterdam Art Weekend, the Kunstverein’s Maxine Kopsa and Juliètte Jongma, director of the adjacent gallery, teamed up to host the second event in the Eau de Cologne series. Named after dealer Monika Sprüth’s female-focused magazine, published intermittently in the 1980s and ’90s, Eau de Cologne #2 featured, in addition to Garnier’s offerings, live music from Tommy Oost, one of the artists produced by the independent label I’m With Her Records, which Kopsa, Jongma, and Juliaan Andeweg set up earlier this year.Left: Frieze cofounder Matthew Slotover and Stedelijk Museum director Beatrix Ruf. (Photo: Jan Boeve) Right: Artist Anna Ostoya.

After the gig, some of us headed out to the EYE Film Institute—a short ferry-ride from the Amsterdam Central Station across the IJ lake—to hear the soft-spoken British artist Anthony McCall talk about his work, one of the weekend’s well-attended lectures. The audience spilled out of the auditorium into the exhibition rooms where several of McCall’s “solid light films” are on view, illustrating his claim that these living, breathing sculptural objects encourage their own brand of sociability. The cigarette smoke and dust that gave the light cones substance in the 1970s, when they were first projected in alternative art spaces, have since been replaced by fog machines.

Another sign of the times: Frieze mogul Matthew Slotover, whom I spotted in the lecture theater, was in town to talk art and capital alongside Beatrix Ruf, the new director of the Stedelijk Museum, at De Balie, a place that prides itself on fostering critical debate. “I’m going to get bashed by all the Dutch revolutionaries,” Slotover told me, sheepishly. I clutch my copy of a biography of the fiery anarchist speaker Emma Goldman, nicknamed “Red Emma.” One of Goldman’s spirited replies lies behind the unwieldy name of that much-loved Amsterdam institution, If I Can’t Dance, I Don’t Want To Be Part Of Your Revolution. Its rich program of guest lectures, performances, and workshops, part of the weeklong Performance Days festival, coincided with the Amsterdam Art Weekend.

Art and capital were very much on the agenda at the Manifesta-hosted Sunday brunch introducing Berlin-based artist Christian Jankowski as the chief curator for Manifesta 11. His curatorial concept for the 2016 edition of the nomadic European Biennial, which will take place in Zurich, involves connecting visiting artists with professionals of every ilk, and not just bankers. The engaging title—“What People Do For Money: Some Joint Ventures”—was prematurely leaked, according to Jankowski, but he stands by it. “Why this insistence on money?” I asked. “Because people wake up when they hear the word,” he said.

Left: Curator Chus Martinez and PR person Rhiannon Pickles. Right: Maria Isserlis, Manifesta director Hedwig Fijen, and artist and curator Christian Jankowski.

Modeled after the successful Berlin Gallery Weekend, Amsterdam Art Weekend plays to the Dutch capital’s strengths. “Amsterdam is very good at discovering and developing young artists,” said Adriana Gonzalez Hulshof, the glamorous Dutch-Peruvian art historian who is at the helm of AAW. Designed to attract collectors, from neighboring Belgium especially, the long weekend was originally an initiative of Rijksakademie director Els van Odijk, and the RijksakademieOPEN remains the main draw for many visitors.

I cycled out there with my hosts on Saturday morning, stopping en route to visit the Vivian Maier retrospective at Foam, Amsterdam’s photography museum. Located in former military barracks, the Rijksakademie—with its warren of studios spread over several floors and connected buildings—is home to fifty resident artists from all over the world. An hour after it opened its doors to the public, the place was already abuzz. More modest in scale, the first-year show at the nearby De Ateliers completed the circuit of artist residencies, in which the city justifiably takes pride.

The same can be said for De Appel’s Curatorial and Gallerist programs, whose participants had their own moment to shine at the discussion around “Curating and dealing performance,” organized by the arts center. “When Elephants Come Marching In,” a patchy group show exploring the legacy of 1960s psychedelia and conceptualism, took over De Appel’s exhibition spaces. The theme certainly has currency in Amsterdam; that very weekend, LED panels all over the city center flashed dire warnings about white heroin being sold as cocaine on the streets.

Left: Stedelijk Museum curator Hendrik Folkerts with artist Emily Roysdon. Right: Maxine Kopsa, director of Kunstverein Amsterdam with Juliaan Andeweg and Juliette Jongma, all of I’m With Her Records.

One of the indisputable highlights of Amsterdam Art Weekend was Tony Ousler’s site-specific installation for the city’s oldest building, the thirteenth-century Oude Kerk, situated right in the middle of the red-light district, a short distance from De Appel. When I arrived, a performance responding to Ousler’s work was taking place, sadly in Dutch; I concentrated instead on the talking figures of different sizes projected here and there on the walls, the vaulted wooden ceiling, the stained-glass windows, the misericords in the choir, as if designed to bring out the best features of the wonderful old church.

Destined for the Stedelijk Museum’s smooth white façade, Ousler’s outdoor projection echoing the one at the Oude Kerk was unveiled in the evening, shortly before the start of the AAW reception, which saw an elegant crowd mill around the museum’s grand staircase. The bright lights, the height of ceilings, and the event’s glitzy nature made me instantly long for the warm and congenial atmosphere of Performance Days, staged in a set of cottage-like buildings and in the garden of the former SKOR Foundation for Art and Public Domain (a casualty of Dutch funding cuts), where I heard the keynote speaker Chus Martínez extol the virtues of procrastination.

Things grew more relaxed at the afterparty on the ground floor of the prodigiously ornate Stadsschouwburg theater. The talk turned briefly to Alicia Framis’s transparent Plexiglas Confessional Room at Annet Gelink Gallery, where, throughout the weekend, visitors could open up to a priest for all to see—if not really hear. “They had to bring the priest in from Spain,” someone said wryly. But soon the place became too busy and loud to entertain any thought of conversation.

Left: Vivian Ziherl, curator of If I Can’t Dance, and artist Gerry Bibby. Right: Rijksmuseum director of collections Taco Dibbits.

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