Ellen Mandemaker, 'The transformation of Jacky, a potential next generation variety', 2018-2019 C-print Donated 2021 / Public space. @ Ogentroost, Museum De Buitenplaats

A treat for the eye – exhibition Ogentroost at Museum De Buitenplaats

Issue no4
Aug / Sep 2022
roleplay & eindexamens 2022

Even though it is located only a 20-min drive (and 40-min cycle ride) away from the city of Groningen, De Buitenplaats is a museum that only few people seem to know about. This is a shame, because with its biomorphic architecture and the beautiful garden surrounding it, it is definitely a place worth visiting. Maia Paduraru passes by and discusses its exhibition Ogentroost, featuring works that belong to the art collection of a neighbouring hospital.

The paintings currently on view at De Buitenplaats serve not to provoke, but primarily to distract. They are meant to divert hospital patients’ attention from their agony and pain. “Ogentroost”, the title of the exhibition in Eelde, literally means: a comfort for the eyes. The title is derived from a plant called “Euphrasia” (eyebright) – a plant that is used often in the treatment of eye infections. Of course, “eyebright” also more poetically and metaphorically hints towards artworks’ ability to improve our wellbeing.

Director of the museum Mariëtta Jansen was, before joining the museum, part of an art society called “Thomassen à Thuessink”– a collaboration between Universitair Medisch Centrum Groningen (Groningen based hospital, in short: UMCG), Groninger Museum, Fries Museum, Drents Museum, and Minerva Academy. Together, these parties are developing various art projects such as Beelden van Buiten (“Images from Outside”: Fries Museum in the UMCG). Jansen explains: “When I started my job in Eelde, one of my biggest goals was to show something from the collection of the UMCG. I had been involved in the setting up of that collection and knew that it was interesting. Unfortunately, not many people seem to know about it – besides patients, doctors, and other hospital-employees of course.”

The exhibition is presented in a traditional white-cube setting and features mostly oil paintings. Various works from artists belonging to De Ploeg, as well as from recent graduates of the Minerva Art Academy, are on view. Well-known artists and lesser-known artists are brought together, and all of them have something in common: a sense of calmness and serenity and an embedding in the local landscape. Paintings such as Aan het wad by Anke Roder and Sneeuw by Gerard Koster are emblematic of the exhibition’s attempt to encapsulate tranquillity in “natural”, oftentimes blue and white, tones. After the struggling time of the corona pandemic, Mariëtta, Bertrand de Jong (Head of UMCG Art-Affairs) and Petra Kooi (the exhibition’s curator) together thought that, besides showing a subset of the hospital collection, presenting nature related paintings could perhaps provide some consolation to the museum’s audience. The museum building itself was also designed as an extension of the nature surrounding it, hence contributing to the wellbeing of visitors. A beautiful garden encircles the museum, like a green and wavy sea.

The exhibition is at once traditional (because of the kind of paintings it exhibits) and progressive (in the role it ascribes to these paintings, rejecting the idea of art for art’s sake)

Exhibition overview Ogentroost, Museum De Buitenplaats

Exhibition overview Ogentroost, Museum De Buitenplaats

Exhibition overview Ogentroost, Museum De Buitenplaats

Throughout the exhibition, the visual language of modernism is expressed through abstract shapes, thick patches of color, and brush strokes. However, at Ogentroost, this modernist abstraction starts to serve a practical, therapeutical purpose. The exhibition is at once traditional (because of the kind of paintings it exhibits) and progressive (in the role it ascribes to these paintings, rejecting the idea of art for art’s sake). Apart from the paintings, some photographs by Ellen Mandemaker are on view, portraying potatoes as humanoid figures.

What does it mean to take art into the hospital, and now out of the hospital and in a museum setting? Needless to say, context matters. A museum has much more freedom than a hospital in terms of choosing which artworks to present. In a hospital, a painting must align with the main function of that institution; it must help to provide comfort and medical treatment.

Bertrand explains that some of paintings on view in this exhibition are in fact not hanging on the walls in the hospital due to the uncomfortable nature of the subjects they represent. One of them is Anesthesia (1992), a work by Wout Muller which depicts a fantasy landscape with human and animal figures recalling the Dutch still-life paintings. The painting was removed from the department of anaesthesiology after more than 25 years due to rebuilding of the hospital. Later, it was not re-installed because some staff members deemed the nudity it depicts inappropriate.

Bertrand: “In the last decennia we see a growing prudishness towards nudes in the society as well as in the hospital. We must deal with it and empathise with these reactions, but I think we should not align with them too much”

Theo Leijdekkers 'Climbing roses large', 2010 Oil on canvas Purchase 2012 / Public hallway, ERIBA. @ Ogentroost, Museum De Buitenplaats

Exhibition overview Ogentroost, Museum De Buitenplaats

Bertrand: “According to such doctors, patients and their family in the hospital are too emotionally unstable to be confronted with subjects such as war, religion and nudity. In the last decennia we see a growing prudishness towards nudes in the society as well as in the hospital. We must deal with it and empathise with these reactions, but I think we should not align with them too much.” Artworks, according to Bertrand, should still be challenging and interesting to look at, even in hospitals. A recent example of an artwork that sparked complaints is Albert Aukema’s sculpture installed in the garden of the Martini Hospital in Groningen. Aukema’s sculpture depicts a mother with two children at her chest and was perceived as ‘sexual’ by some hospital workers and visitors.

The UMCG collection gives the comfort that all of us need after more than two years of corona pandemic. It is a specific type of art that De Buitenplaats exhibits: some people will enjoy it, others will not. In any case, Ogentroost is an amazing chance to see works that otherwise will be on view only behind the closed doors of the halls, offices, and meeting rooms of Groningen’s hospital. When I ask Mariëtta and Bertrand if this exhibition will be displayed in other museums in the Netherlands as well, they reply that unfortunately it will not. Most probably, this is the only time the UMCG collection will be exhibited outside of the hospital.

Ogentroost is on view until October 23rd, at Museum De Buitenplaats in Eelde

Maia Paduraru
studies journalism at the University of Groningen and is currently an intern at Metropolis M

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Metropolis M Magazine for contemporary art No 4 — 2022