AQ19 Summer 2017 Art Reviews
by Bryan R. Monte
Edward Krasinski Retrospective, Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, 24 June to 15 October 2017.
Rineke Dijkstra Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, 20 May to 8 August 2017.
The Thin Blue Line
As an art critic, I am sometimes seen as the thin blue line between what is art and what may be variously described as kitsch, empty, repeated stylistic or signature gestures or just plain hype. For me, important art is something sublime, revolutionary and/or transgressive, which stirs theists’ souls or atheists’ psyches and which must be encouraged and protected. As a critic with preview and privileged access to some new, Amsterdam art exhibitions and sometimes their artists, I consider it my duty to guide both my Dutch and foreign resident readers to where they can best spend their time. Sometimes, as is the case with this review of the Edward Krasinski Retrospective at the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, my review is mixed as I found some elements of this exhibition praiseworthy, whilst others unfortunately left me cold.
Krasinski was part of an experimental, minimalist art movement in Poland from the 1960s to the 2000s. His tiny studio and apartment was a gathering place for the Polish avant-garde. His “trademark” was his use of 12 mm., blue electrical tape that ran through most of his work (and sometimes that of others) continued on the walls of his studio at exactly 130 cm. This divided the standard wall of approximately 260 cm. into two planes: above and below. Sometimes, as in his Intervention series paintings from the 1970s to the 1990s, the blue line is incorporated into the planes and dimensionality of the geometric shapes themselves, going into the sides and corners of the three dimensional objects and then out the back of the artwork and then back onto the wall. These pure geometric shapes with many planes certainly reminds me of Piet Mondriaan’s later work, after he had abandoned Impressionism and Cubism for his own Constructivism and also that of Kazimir Malevich, both of whose work is well-represented in the Stedelijk’s permanent collection. In addition to this perspective-challenging gimmick, the Krasinski exhibition also contains earlier work from the 1960s before the omnipresent thin, blue line. These mixed media sculptures and mobiles, incorporating scrap metal, wood and other found objects, are evocative not only due to their combinations and surfaces, but also due to the shadows they create on a wall when a light is shone on them as they move. These works are indeed are economical, whimsical and multi-faceted. In addition, the last gallery of the exhibition contains an archive of selected documents, especially photographs, correspondence and sketches that add a historical dimension to the exhibition. For example, there is a letter from Nelson Rockefeller’s art collection curator, requesting information about acquiring Krasinski’s Number 7, 1967 on exhibition then at the Guggenheim Museum.
However, since this is a travelling retrospective, which is making its second stop after the Tate Liverpool, the exhibition contains a lot more installations, artwork and even a reconstruction of part of the artist’s tiny Warsaw studio which unfortunately left me feeling a bit cold. The gallery called Labyrinth with its hanging mirrors with blue tape through them reflecting the faces of the exhibition’s viewers and also the backs of other mirrors felt like something I’d seen before in student art shows wanting to exploit the voyeurism related to art appreciation. Another gallery which featured Krasinski’s blue cord sculptures for the Tokyo Biennial also didn’t seem to me to be such a radical extension of, nor as effective as, his blue-taped wall trademark since they don’t seem to be geometrically transgressive. Lastly his reconstructed studio, whilst cluttered with archival papers and photos, didn’t really seem to shed much light for me on his modus operandi. I realise that being an artist in Cold War Poland required sacrifices both related to being unable to make challenging political statements and having access to proper materials, but I don’t see how this reconstructed studio brings this to light. I do, however, understand how this repressive impoverished environment created absurdist artwork such as Tadeusz Kantor’s black and white photo entitled Panoramic Sea Happening of Krasinski at the beach standing on a step ladder with an audience in beach chairs, conducting the waves and how other parts of the exhibition I have mentioned above, do bring this, if only tangentially, to light.
If however, you are able to make it to the Stedelijk before 8 August, and perhaps need a break from the Krasinski exhibition, you will be lucky to view some of Dutch photographer Rineke Dijkstra’s work including a few series of photographic portraits of young people and some video works. Dijkstra has made her name as an artist by being able to capture seemingly spontaneous moments in young people’s lives whether it be in a park or at the beach or the transformation of a new recruit to battle-hardened soldier. Her photos and videos capture the permanent, youthful, artistic springtime mentioned in John Keats “Ode on a Grecian Urn.”
Dijkstra’s children and young adults, are depicted in moments of society and solitude that fade or change almost as soon as the photos are taken. For example her Park Series includes one photo of two young men and two young women sitting on a lawn between trees with water in the background in Amsterdam’s Vondelpark on a rare sunny day. One youth sits up looking slightly cross while the other is reclining and on the point of laughing. This photo reminds me of Edouard Manet’s Le Déjeuner sur l’herbe only the young women are fully clothed, maintaining the transitory adolescent air of innocence. Dijkstra is famous for some of her other classical references such as her photo of a female in a yellow swimsuit, Kolobrzg, Poland, July 26, 1992, her hair and pose similar to that of Botecelli’s Birth of Venus. In another series, Olivier, Quartier Viénot, Marseilles, mentioned above, Dijkstra captures the transformation of a fresh, young recruit to hardened, battle-ready soldier (including one photo with face camouflage and fatigues and another in dress uniform) over three years.
The most engaging piece of this exhibit, however, is the video triptych, I Can See A Woman Crying, (2009) in which a group of Liverpudlian children in their red, white and grey school uniforms first describe hesitantly and cautiously their ideas about what is happening in Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Women. Their discussion picks up pace and volume as they become more engaged and feel freer to express themselves reaching a natural crescendo towards the end of the video’s 12 minutes. The spontaneity of the children’s responses is also aided by the slightly asynchronous depiction of what is said before the young speaker is shown and the speakers are shuffled from one to another of the three video screens. This a fresh and engaging video piece, worth the journey alone to the museum. I hope you have the opportunity to view it. AQ