Decorations at Witte de With, Rotterdam
As Witte de With confronts its collection of traces from past decades of exhibition-making, the center hosts a series of artistic and curatorial approaches to source materials from institutional and personal archives. The commissions in the series variously deconstruct and engage with canonical moments in our own history, and provide a platform for previously unacknowledged cultural histories and figures whose presentation will loop back into and supplement Witte de With’s archive.
An intuitive researcher and playful gatherer of art historical references and folkloric anecdotes, Kasper Bosmans reimagines past Witte de With projects through a series of new works, including large-scale murals, sculptures, painterly interventions in select archival boxes, and an artist publication. Bosmans began his research for Decorations with a close reading of 20+ Years Witte de With, an anthology published by the institution in 2012 that lists all exhibitions and other projects at Witte de With between 1990 and 2011. Bosmans made numerous annotations, footnotes, scribbles and sketches in the margins across the 357 pages. Adding his own remarks and critical notes, and inserting photographs from Asger Jorn’s 10,000 Years of Nordic Folk Art collection, he opens up this well-edited historiography to new interpretations.
Upon entering the exhibition space, the Strait of Gibraltar — the leitmotif of Yto Barrada’s exhibition A Life Full of Holes: The Strait Project (2004) — is evoked by painting the official flags of both Gibraltar and Ceuta, on the African shore of the strait, onto two existing columns. In antiquity, this rocky gateway to Europe was also known as the Pillars of Hercules. This and other information is gathered in Bosmans ongoing series of ‘legend’ paintings, in which he subjectively gathers information to create painted circumscriptions that refer to what he calls specimens: intentional objects existing independently from the paintings yet closely related to them. These paintings can be considered visual, synthetic sediments of conducted research and stand as new points of orientation and reference in relation to the material they capture. For Witte de With, Bosmans extends this series by painting legends to accompany both the new works on view as well as select projects from the institution’s past that he closely relates to.
For the five murals on view, Bosmans distilled a number of overarching themes from Witte de With’s past program. These recurrent subjects — migration, sexuality, domesticity, urbanism, and ecology — represent a subjective reading of what is often perceived as a canonical chain of exhibitions. Witte de With’s program tends to be classified as an Apollonian absolute, yet any processing of historical information will always remain a subjective, or even subversive undertaking. Mythological narratives or stories seemingly made up of indubitable facts are edited through a personal filter, thus countering the impulse to lock-down meaning. Opting for a more abstract visual language, Bosmans’ murals turn potentially heavy-handed topics into decorative, open-ended patterns.
After reading numerous descriptions and accounts of art works shown at Witte de With throughout the years, Bosmans was drawn to those cases where works had been recreated or restaged for exhibition purposes, such as for exhibitions like Hélio Oiticica (1992) and Paul Thek: The Wonderful World That Almost Was (1995). From the retrospective exhibition of Paul Thek’s oeuvre Bosmans boldly revives an element from Thek’s installation Dwarf Parade Table (1969); a small dog figure with eggs for nipples.
Around the corner from Bosmans’ sculptural reimagining, a strand of pearls is presented that he made together with artist Marthe Ramm Fortun in 2014. The work is re-exhibited here as a nod to Massimo Bartolini who in 2001 applied pearls on every architectural edge of an entire exhibition space at Witte de With during [squatters #2].
Elsewhere in the exhibition, one is confronted with vermicular rustication, a masonry technique that was popularized in Renaissance architecture. Large stones used for the base layer of facades were chiseled in such a way they seemed to have been worm-eaten. This technique not only allowed for these stones to be carved into another pattern later on, they also evoked the sense that the palazzi decorated with this technique stemmed from an old tradition, referring to the strongholds of medieval times. Simultaneously, the carved pattern also underlines the vanity of these magnificent buildings, being eaten away at their very foundation.
Prompted by the absence of folk art in Witte de With’s exhibition history, Decorations also features photographs taken from artist Asger Jorn’s archive 10,000 Years of Nordic Folk Art, a project that is part of his Scandinavian Institute for Comparative Vandalism, founded in 1961 as an interdisciplinary institute aimed at ‘vandalizing’ art history. The core objective of the Institute was the publication of a number of photographic picture-books on ancient and medieval folk art in Scandinavia. The only part of this project that was actually realized is a book on the influence of the visual language of the Nordic Bronze Age on twelfth century graffiti in Normandy churches. Jorn understood vandalism not as a destructive gesture but rather as the playful displacement and com-pilation of signs and motifs. This creative vandalism operated from within a philosophical framework based on the dialectic between north (Scandinavian cultures) and south (Latin cultures), which manifested itself visually in a dialogue between meaning and mannerism.
9 September – 31 December 2016
Witte de Withstraat 50
Courtesy of the artist, Witte de with, Marc Foxx and Barbara Gladstone
Photography: Aad Hoogendoorn