Through an Open Window: Contemporary Art from the Rabo Art Collection

February 7, 2010By Heidi EllisonArchive

Reality Revised,
For Better or Worse

Paris Update Institut Neerlandais Yinka Shonibare

Yinka Shonibare: ”The Pursuit” (2007). Photo: Peter Cox, Eindhoven.© Rabo Art Collection

Good news: Paris’s Institut Néerlandais (Dutch Institute), recently threatened with closure by the Dutch government, has been given a reprieve, which means it will continue to mount admirable art exhibitions and hold concerts and other cultural events in its lovely seventh arrondissement townhouse.

In the past, we have been treated to works by both old and new Dutch masters, and it is now once again the turn of contemporary art, with “Through an Open Window: Contemporary Art from the Rabo Art Collection.” The Dutch Rabobank has a collection of over 1,100 works of postwar art, represented here by 39 pieces, and regularly commissions works from Dutch and international artists.

While there is no particular theme to the exhibition, the works are intelligently selected and displayed in a way that creates evocative echoes between them.

It begins with abstract works, among them “Horizon of Tuscany #23” (1995) by Karel Appel, and Jan Andriesse’s elegant “Amstel 2002” (2002), an attempt to capture the river on canvas with aluminum and metal chains. Navid Nuur combines the natural with the purely artificial in a column-like sculpture, “Home” (2006-10), built of polystyrene foam boards and bee pollen.

Folkert de Jong contributes two disturbing sculptural groups that are scarily real, even though they are painted in impossible colors that run and drip over the surfaces. “Circle of Trust (Mother and Son)” (2009), splashed with what looks like tar as well as brightly colored paint, inspires anything but a feeling of trust as the mother turns her head away from the boy (with a creepily adult face) she holds precariously in her arms.

One of my favorite artists, William Kentridge, is represented by one of his multimedia works, “What Will Come” (2007), involving the animation of his own drawings along with music and sound effects (it is somewhat hidden in a room of its own on the second floor; make sure you don’t miss it). Like all of his work, it brilliantly mixes humor with tragedy, but in this case the distorted images on a spinning platter can only be seen properly when reflected in the mirrored tube in the center.

Many of these works seem to be saying something about the impossibility of striving for beauty and perfection: Yinka Shonibare’s “The Pursuit” (2007; pictured above), for example, with its kitschy, life-sized, flower-filled re-creation of a courtship scene, is missing only one element – the heads of the protagonists – while Harmen Brethouwer’s flower-decorated chinoiserie “vase,” “Improved Flowers” (2008), is shaped like a bullet and lacks a hole for the flowers and water.

Berend Strik seems to be trying to improve on reality with “Sky House” (2008), a moody black-and-white photo of a lonely thatched-roof house in a field under a big, cloudy sky, which he has enhanced with judicious touches of embroidery that give it texture, depth and a hint of color.

You’ll spend a pleasant hour or so visiting this exhibition and you’ll leave, as always at the Dutch Institute in Paris, with a nice souvenir: a small booklet with color reproductions of one work by and a short essay on each artist.

Heidi Ellison

Institut Néerlandais: 121, rue de Lille, 75007 Paris. Métro: Through November 4. Open Tuesday-Sunday, 1pm-7pm. Closed Monday. Admission: €5.

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