It has been clear for years now that the 20th century is over. However, I am still nostalgic and trying to hold on to certain developments in art that make me feel grounded and inspired such as Arte Povera, Minimalism and some challenging sculptural works. Of course, I understand that painting ruled 20th century art, and design became a major thing. That is ok. What puzzles me is the lack of iconic sculpture in the new display of the Stedelijk Museum permanent collection in Amsterdam (Stedelijk Base Remix the Collection Exhibition). Where is Donald Judd’s beautiful piece that used to grace the entrance? Where is Carl Andre’s floor installations and Dan Flavin’s lights? A pig (not even) made by Jeff Koons, some medical trash by Damien Hirst and Judd’s chairs is not enough, or is it? I suppose, dividing the exhibition into upstairs-downstairs has its problems.
The ABN AMRO Zaal in the basement of the new building – the sunken part of the bathtub – was turned into a second-hand shop display. It is filled with furniture, posters, knick-knacks and even a mosaic. Who would think such a thing? The display fells like a curated charity shop. You need to sieve through the clutter. The logic of display seems to be derived from those commercial art fairs much in vogue these days. It can also be considered within the parameters of an auction room aesthetic. I guess one can call it a rhizomatic walk through 20th century stuff. It is a bit like walking around Amsterdam itself. You never know where you end up or what is around the corner. Obviously, the works are not new, and the dirty-white of a Malevich’s painting looks even dirtier. Lucio Fontana’s cut canvas crammed into an ageing perspex box feels detrimental to his spatial concerns, the Picasso’s are just generic and bbbbbbrrrrrruuuuuucccccceeeeee (Nauman) neon work is a pointless utterance so high up on the wall. The work Tir (Shooting Altar) by Niki de Saint Phalle seems to be one of few at home in the jumble. Ah, there is the smell of rope that emanates from the work Double Column by Jackie Winsor. Who can forget it? Smells make an experience so vivid! The upstairs room feels less cluttered and underwhelming.
The main issue with the basement is the fact that it is a huge room destined to monumentality. It needs art that addresses the potential of the room or articulates it well. It lends itself to works by artists such as Richard Serra, Anish Kapoor, Phyllida Barlow, to say but a few. So far, the best use of the space was achieved in the exhibition Communitas by Aernout Mik in 2013. Paintings, textiles and small-scale work don’t function in that room. They look lost, sad and unaccomplished. The Stedelijk should use that space in an unusual way for it to work. The only interesting thing about this remix of the old collection in the basement is the confirmation of my suspicion: 20th century art is just a room full of stuff! Its value is in the mind of the beholder. In the end, I think George Kubler is right: what we need is not a history of art but an art history of things.
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam | 20th century | Arte Povera | Minimalism | Design | Donald Judd | Carl Andre | Dan Flavin | Jeff Koons | Damien Hirst | Second-hand shop | Charity shop | Auction | Aesthetics | Amsterdam | Rhizomatic | Russian avant-garde | Kazimir Malevich | Lucio Fontana | Pablo Picasso | Bruce Nauman | Christo | Arman | Niki de Saint Phalle | Jackie Winsor | Rope | Richard Serra | Anish Kapoor | Phyllida Barlow | Aernout Mik | George Kubler | Art History