ARCO: hokus focus pilatus pas

Issue no4
Aug - Sept 2020

It is a Navid Nuur joke. ‘Hokus Focus’ is the title of an exhibition in Madrid and an eye-catching work at the Martin van Zomeren gallery stand at ARCOmadrid. Hokus Focus... at ARCO Focus The Netherlands, that cannot be a coincidence.

With Zomeren, Nuur presents his own version of airport art. In his case, this is no jingle that the well-travelled artist reels off here and there around the world, but an aluminium bagage container of the kind used in airplanes. In Nuur’s case, it serves as housing for a work in neon. I do not believe that Nuur has made his best work here, but it is amusing.

Nuur shares the stand with Katja Mater, unquestionably one of the great talents in Dutch art, who became famous with playful colour studies and translations of abstract art from one medium to another, ultimately making a firm landing in the field of photography. A few works are hanging at the Zomeren stall – and they are not her best. I ask myself what the casual Spanish passerby will think of them, people who do not know Mater except by way of these works. This is where I realize how familiar Dutch art lovers already are with the work being exhibited here, work that they can put perfectly into context and perspective in their own minds, then decide if it is good or bad.

At an art fair, without that knowledge, without that perspective, it is all just making do. In this supermarket for art, the mustard is next to the apple juice. National representation is like a huge vanishing act: hokus pokus.

That disappearing act also seems to have been intentional. At ARCOmadrid, the 14 Dutch galleries are not presented alongside one another, but mixed in with galleries from other countries. The comparison with the primarily Spanish Umfeld is certainly to the advantage of the Dutch. Compared with the generally miserable art of their neighbours, the Dutch art leaps out, fresh and adventurous, experimental and inventive. This is also thanks to support from the Mondriaan Foundation, which allowed these galleries the financial wherewithal to take greater risks than they would normally do at art fairs. In most cases, work is only presented by two artists, and in some, only one.

Consequently, Nathaniel Mellors can show himself to advantage with Diana Stigter, Lisa Oppenheim with Juliètte Jongma, Sarah van Sonsbeeck (with Metropolis M featuring her this month, I can say ‘our’ Sarah) with Annet Gelink, together with David Maljkovic, who is presenting striking new work, and Fernando Sanchex Castillo with the Tegenbosch Gallery. The luckiest of all is Wendelien van Oldenborgh, whom Wilfried Lentz has treated to a complete mini-retrospective in suitable exhibition architecture based on Lina Bo Bardi.

Noticeably absent are the budget cuts. Only Zinger Presents has left the screen black, as it were, with a presentation in the form of an artist’s statement. Famous works of art from the history of Dutch art, notably the years 1974, 1978 and 2010 (years when the Dutch national soccer team one world or European championships), have been reproduced in actual size, but completely in black. The avant-garde heritage of the Netherlands, now hidden from view, has clearly paved the way for a future generation, but the image is of a negative presence, a ban on visibility, on being.

Zinger Presents has produced an extra edition of these works for sale. The profits will go to the Rijksakademie and the Ateliers, which, it appears, will be the major victims in the new economic measures, just as Focus The Netherlands once again proves how great their role in Dutch art actually is.

One has to ask whether the Dutch drama will actually touch the Spanish, who have already had to close many of their museums.

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 4 — 2020