Latest Art Reviews From Rotterdam By Carla Raffinetti

This could be Rotterdam, or anywhere – (Review by Carla Raffinetti)

Rotterdam is something of a cultural Mecca in the Netherlands. Be warned though: the city is not attractive to behold to the naked eye. The Nazis razed it to the ground during the Second World War. This prompted a flurry of construction, resulting in much of the block style architecture that populates the Rotterdam skyline today. Although the post-war building crisis has since dissipated, the city continues to draw in architects, designers and artists from around the world, permeating Rotterdam with a creative energy, which lead to the city receiving the ‘European City of Culture’ award in 2001.

Any art lover visiting the city for the first time should start in Witte de Withstraat, which is the cultural centre of the city. The area miraculously survived the war blitz. Consequently many of its original buildings still survive, giving this street a charming, old world feel that is absent from many newer parts of Rotterdam. The quaint bars, cafés and shops lining the street provide a welcome source of refreshment and distraction in between gallery hopping.


TENT gallery, Witte de Withstraat 50

Secret Gardens  (De Geheime Tuin)

5 April 2012 – 10 June 2012

The TENT gallery is an important platform for exposing (primarily) Dutch talent. The interplay between people and nature is the theme of Secret Gardens, a group exhibition by fifteen artists. The work on display is diverse, ranging from the traditional to the conceptual. More conventional pieces include Olphaert den Otter’s surrealistic painting, Schuld en Boete (Crime and Punishment ) (2011), which features a metallic skeleton lying limply on a makeshift wooden stand, set alongside an idyllic riverscape.

secret gardens - de geheime tuin

The highlight of the show is undoubtedly the spectacular installation, Humus by Italian-born artist Giuseppe Licari. Now based in Rotterdam, Licari’s art interrogates the relationship between nature and the built environment. In this piece, which occupies the entire centre room of the gallery, a network of tree roots appears to grow out of the ceiling. Lit by dim spotlights, the space is magically transformed into a mysterious underworld.

humus - giuseppe-licari


Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art, Witte de Withstraat 50

The Witte de With Centre is one of Rotterdam’s leading contemporary art galleries, where there are two exhibitions currently under way, featuring Alexandre Singh and Meriç Algün Ringborg.

The Humans (2012) Alexandre Singh

26 April – 28 October 2012

The Humans is the brainchild of writer-artist Alexandre Singh. The work is still in progress and will culminate in the production of a play, to be staged in the spring of 2013, at a yet to be identified location in Rotterdam. For the next six months, Singh will use the gallery as his studio, where he will write the script for the play and design the set. Artlyst was able to speak to Singh in his studio. In conversation with him, the depth of research that has been channelled into this project is immediately apparent. Collaging from sources as diverse as Greek, Christian and Hindu mythology, science, alchemy and contemporary life, Singh explains his plans to craft a new creation myth, which will feature an air-conditioner as the creator of the universe and a cat as the godhead. As Singh’s work progresses, he will fill the gallery walls with his drawings. Alongside this, discussions will be held in which guest artists and scholars will discuss themes central to Singh’s practice, such as cosmology, cosmogony and religion. There is not much to see yet (apart from a few preliminary sketches), but be sure to watch this space for interesting developments in the near future.

humans - alexandre singh


Prompts & Triggers Act I: Line No. 2 (Holy Bible) (2012) Meriç Algün Ringborg

26 April – 17 June 2012

Line No 2 (Holy Bible) by Turkish born artist, Meriç Algün Ringborg consists of verses from the Bible, arranged along a straight, horizontal line that circumnavigates the gallery space. As an immigrant to Sweden, the artist frequently explores themes of cultural identity hegemony, language and belonging in her work. Commenting on an earlier, similar piece, ( Line No.1 [Holy Bible]), the artist explains that this work integrates “two authoritarian components”: a line and the Bible. The horizontal line running around the room has the effect of forcing the viewer to be below or at eye level with it. The line also represents an “inconspicuous authority traversing the room.” The piece is a reminder of the pervasive influence that the Bible exerts on society at large, regardless of whether one identifies as Christian or not.

holy bible - meric algun ringborg


Showroom MAMA, Witte de Withstraat 29-31

Highbrow, Lowbrow, Nobrow – MOUSSE!

7 April – 23 June 2012

This quirky gallery has sought to position itself as a cutting edge platform for young artists wishing to establish a presence on the cultural scene. Past exhibitions have ranged from the mildly amusing to the downright bizarre. Perhaps this accounts for why MAMA’s latest offering, Highbrow, Lowbrow, Nobrow – MOUSSE, is so difficult to describe in words. This group exhibition throws together an incoherent mixture of work, including a tattoo parlour by Nomad, entitled No Way Back, which promises free tattoos of the drawings on display to anyone who wishes to procure a free piece of body art.

highbrow lowbrow nobrow - mousse


Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Museumpark 18-20

Located at the extreme end of Witte de Withstraat, the Boijmans Museum is the pre-eminent museum to visit in Rotterdam for works by old and modern masters. In addition to paintings by Dutch giants such as Breugel and Rembrandt, the museum also houses an impressive collection of Surrealist art, which is well worth a visit. On a sunny day, a stroll through the outdoor sculpture garden is highly recommended.

The museum also houses a contemporary art wing, which features works by well-known names like Jeff Koons and Jeff Wall in its permanent collection. In addition, the Boijmans frequently hosts temporary exhibitions, including a solo retrospective by the late French-Israeli artist, Absalon, and a touring exhibition of works from the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art, Istanbul Modern Rotterdam.



11 February – 13 May 2012

Absalon (1964 – 1993) was born Meir Eshel but took on the name of Absalon (French for Absalom), the defiant son of King David in the Old Testament. In his art Absalon rebelled against the homogenising constraints of mainstream society. The artist was best known for his Cellules: six life-sized six living units (or ‘cells’) that were meant to accommodate the artist in the six cities in which worked (Paris, Zurich, New York, Tel Aviv, Frankfurt and Tokyo). Produced from wood, and coated in white paint, each cell was custom made to suit the antisocial lifestyle that Absalon wanted to live: to be on his own, without a family and only the occasional visitor, with a minimum level of comfort and only a few possessions to his name. This exhibition features the Cellules, as well as various drawings, geometric sculptures, videos and items of furniture that Absalon made before his untimely death.

absalon - cellules

Istanbul Modern – Rotterdam

11 February – 13 May 2012

Istanbul Modern – Rotterdam comprises a varied selection of works from the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art. No discernable, common theme binds the pieces together, other than that the artists who produced them are Turkish in origin. Two video installations in particular caught Artlyst’s eye, both produced by two different artists, in two different epochs, both of which provide powerful social commentary on the nature of Turkish culture and identity.

The piece The Headless Woman or the Belly Dance (1974) by Nil Yalter features a video recording of the artist’s own navel, onto which she writes an exerpt from Erotique et Civilazations by the French philosopher and historian René Nelli (1906 – 1982). The text concerns the right of women to experience an orgasm. The act of writing is accompanied by traditional belly-dancing music. The work is a dual commentary on the eroticization of oriental women in the occident and the growing demand for equality between the sexes. This was the first piece of Turkish video art to be exhibited both inside and outside the country, and is a landmark of the history of the genre.

belly dance - nil yalter

In Undressing (2006), Nilbar Güreş features herself wearing a costume that looks like a burqa. As she unveils herself, the artist calls out the names of women who are all personally known to her. Besides being acquainted with the artist, the only thread that otherwise binds the women together is that they all reside in Europe and hail from Muslim backgrounds. Some wear headscarves, whereas others do not. They all trace their roots back to different countries. The work reacts against the growing tendency to make generalisations about Muslim women. Güreş states, “The majority of Muslim women living in Europe [should] first and foremost, represent their individual selves and not religious or nationalist ideas.”

undressing - nilbar gures

Inside Out Project, behind the Schieblock, Schiekade 189

2012 until it gets ripped down

Last, but not least, Artlyst decided to veer off course from Witte de Withstraat, because we had heard that French street “artivist” JR was in town. JR has gained worldwide recognition for his photo graffiti, in which he pastes large format black and white portraits of ordinary people in public spaces. His work earned him the TED prize in 2011. Starting with the streets of Paris as his canvass, JR’s installations have taken him as far as Africa, North America and the favelas of Brazil. His latest initiative, the Inside Out Project ( calls upon the public to take black and white photos of themselves and others around them. The digitally uploaded photos are made into posters before being sent back to the communities that they originated from for display. The website states, “The posters can be placed anywhere, from a solitary image in an office window to a wall of portraits on an abandoned building or a full stadium. These exhibitions will be documented, archived and viewable virtually.” The installation in Rotterdam is but one of many displays of the Inside Out Project around the world, and it is definitely not to be missed.

inside out project - behind the schieblock schiekade


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