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Thilo Westermann ‘Notes on Willem de Rooij’s ‘flower bouquets’ Or: How to deal with the ‘exotic’

published: August 27, 2017, Berlin

Installationsansicht: How To Live Together, Kunsthalle Wien 2017, Foto: Jorit Aust: Willem de Rooij, Bouquet V, 2010, Courtesy der Künstler und Sammlung Haubrok, Berlin

 

Departing from  Documenta 14 and Venice Biennale I came to a majestic ‘flower bouquet’ by Willem de Rooij at Kunsthalle Wien.  The bouquet seemed exotic not only because of the choice of flowers used but rather by the fact that it has been staged right within an exhibition space.  I was thinking about the term ‘exotic’, which originating from Greek ‘exotikos’, meaning   ‘from the outside’, ‘foreign’ or ‘unusual’ as this was the exact feeling which this amazing “bouquet” left with me.  I have seen flamboyant flower bouquets in hotel lobbies or luxury homes; nevertheless placed within a museum space, the arrangement seemed as if something from the outside (not art) world has entered the sacred exhibition halls.  What a beautiful flower bouquet might contribute to the Kunsthalle’s current socio-political exhibition  ‘How to live together’, I was wondering.

Installation view of Willem de Rooij: Entitled Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, October 15, 2016-January 8, 2017

 

De Rooij began developing the ‘bouquets series’ in 2002 together with Jeroen de Rijke and continued alone after the latter’s untimely death in 2006.  The 16 different bouquets existing to date may vary in size and flower breeds, but they have one thing in common: they come with a certificate, a description and an exact list of the botanical names of the flowers to be used. In general, the bouquets are not arranged by the artist himself, but by different florists, who are chosen by the artist and listed on the final object’s name tag as ‘interpreters’. In this regard the arrangements can be claimed conceptual art pieces: ‘Setting aside the personal touch in the execution of the bouquets indicates a discursive, conceptual stance: the work’s essence lies in the development of an idea, not in its execution.’ (Jan van Adrichem: Willem de Rooij. The Bouquets (2002-2010). In: Marente Bloemheuvel and Toos van Kooten (ed.): Windflower. Perceptions of Nature. Rotterdam 2011, pp. 177-190, here p. 184.)

But yet, some earlier pieces are supplemented with texts written by the artist(s). For example, Bouquet II (2003) comes with the text ‘Azra Akin, Agbani Darego, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Amina Lawal’, which has been published in the Austrian art magazine Springerin (Vol. IX, No 1/2003, pp. 42-45) telling the story of the title’s four women. Not interconnected with each other, the women had to face Islamic fundamentalism, nationalistic populism or racist threats, which in the case of Amina Lawal ended up on a north Nigerian court’s sentence of death by stoning, because she became pregnant without being married. Of course, reading about the women’s tragic histories influences the perception of the bouquet next to the text. So I found myself attributing the different flowers of Bouquet II to the text’s female characters.

Willem de Rooij -Jeroen de Rijke -‘Bouquet II’ 2003, courtesy of Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

While this early flower piece may still refer to the four women, later arrangements lack this kind of direct link. For example, the descriptions of Bouquet IV (2005) focus on mere formal issues: ‘The overall impression of the arrangement is dense and compact; all flowers have the same height and thus form quite an even, dome-like shape. The hierarchy between the flowers is designated by their colors and shapes, not by means of their placement within the arrangement. In other words: the different flowers are evenly distributed over the whole, never coming to a concentration of any sort in any area. An exception are the euphorbia and the lisanthia. Although they are also distributed in an even rhythm over the total ensemble, parts of these flowers extend somewhat higher than the other sorts, thus forming protrusions above the entire surface of the piece. […] The essence of Bouquet IV lies within its color palette, which extends to many different varieties and mild shades of pink, peach, orange yellow, light green… and even soft blue… but never arrives at an extreme.  Avoided are whites or light yellows on one side of the spectrum, and reds, purples, or deep blues on the other.  There are no green leaves whatsoever.’ (Willem de Rooij cited in Daniel Birnbaum: Floral Imperative  (Artforum, September 2016)  pp. 289-297, here pp. 292-293.) The two spectra mentioned in this description relate to some flowers’ colors, which would appear super bright or pitch dark in a black and white photograph. Flowers of these colors have to be avoided as – different to all other bouquets – Bouquet IV always becomes exhibited together with a black and white picture of itself.  This two-part installation gains something like a closed circuit quality and can be called the self-referential turn within the flower series: the flower arrangement refers to its photographic image and vice versa. From now on, there are no more clear references at all.

Bouquet IV, 2005, Flower arrangement in white ceramic vase, dimensions variable, courtesy of Friedrich Petzel gallery, New York (exhibited on Jan 19-Feb 18,2006)

Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij Installation view, Friedrich Petzel Gallery, New York, 2006

Bouquet V (2010), which is currently part of the show at Kunsthalle Wien, comes without any further notes and therefore it stays open to all kind of interpretations. It has been developed in the year of Willem de Rooij’s landmark exhibition ‘Intolerance’.  To the

Willem de Rooij, ‘Intolerance’, 2010, Neue Nationalgalerie, Berlin. Painting, Melchior d’Hondecoeter, Pelican and other waterfowl in a park, c. second-half seventeenth century, 132 x 161.5cm. Collection Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. © Staatliche Museen zu Berlin. Photograph: Jens Ziehe

end of this show at Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin the artist had juxtaposed 18th and 19th century feathered objects from pre-Christian Hawaii and bird paintings by Dutch master Melchior d’Hondecoeter (1636–1695).   Starting from two pieces in the collections of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, De Rooij concentrated on the rare pieces, which had been brought to Berlin in former times to satisfy the hunger for exotic objects.  Instead of merely appropriating these objects, he initiated fundamental research to put the artifacts in their own right.  Studying the exhibition’s three-part publication not only the hidden power structures implicated in the religious Hawaiian objects and the hierarchical symbolism of the birds depicted become obvious, but also early global trade and intercultural conflicts are discovered as the backdrop of the objects’ and paintings’ provenience.  Therefore, the exhibition’s title can be related to the (post-)colonial aspects of so many First world collections, their institutional practices and the aspects of global market systems, which handle even religious items and animals as mere products without any deeper understanding nor commitment.

What does all this tell us about the flower bouquets?  Well, in reference to this  2010 exhibition De Rooij claimed in an interview, that the ‘very notion of ‘representing’, of ‘imaging’, is what my [his] work is most deeply concerned with’ (artists-at- work-willem-de Rooij).  We may interpret for example the variety of 95 different flower species making up ‘Bouquet V’ that ‘the work deliberately avoids any hierarchy’ and therefore speaks ‘to the diversity and tension between the politics of collectivism and individualism’ (David Trigg on Willem de Rooij, Arnolfini, Bristol). But what do the bouquets really have to do with representing and imaging?  I think that we might   travel  further back in time to the very core of Netherlandish still life painting, which flourished in De Rooij’s native country in the 16th and 17th centuries; as these early masterpieces may contain religious and allegorical symbols as well as dead animals and foodstuff, De Rooij’s pieces concentrate exclusively on the mere beauty of the flowers.  Looking at his ‘bouquets’ we ‘find ourselves face-to-face with beauty in its purest form’ as art critic Daniel Birnbaum wrote in his essay ‘Floral Imperative’ (Artforum, September 2016).  Even death – the vanitas tradition’s main subject – is excluded in Willem de Rooij’s exhibitions as his bouquets’ flowers are replaced as soon as they start wilting.  Therefore, the bouquets’ beauty remains ideal.  Presumably, the flowers stay faultless like their artificial equivalents, which finally become included in Bouquet VII (2010). Indeed, after all the research on De Rooij’s bouquets and despite of knowing about the flowers being replaced, it still feels strange to see one and the same flower bouquet blossoming all year long and touring the different stages of the art world without any symptom of fatigue. It seems like the idea of a certain arrangement has become manifest in an eternal form.

Isn’t this exactly what we expect from ‘pure beauty’ – no aging, no wrinkles, just freshness and perfect shape?  Yet, this has nothing to do with our everyday life.  It is something different than what we are used to.  It is this other – ideal – mode of existence facing us with its opposite by reminding us of our own bodies’ mortality.  This kind of ‘otherness’ revisits the  ‘exotic’ and the core of Willem de

This kind of ‘otherness’ brings us back to the term ‘exotic’ and the core of Willem de Rooijs bouquets.  In the exact moment where we start thinking about the flower arrangements,  we start taking sides by trying to define (more or less consciously) our own position in reference to those bouquets.  Not far from that we can’t call something or someone exotic, foreign or unusual without having a more or less clear understanding of what is non-exotic, local or familiar; we can’t distinguish ourselves from the ‘other’ without having any idea of who/what we are.  Apparently, specifying this very dichotomy and reasoning about its relevance today is the crucial point, where tolerance turns into intolerance and vice versa.  It’s the exact starting point for any responsible socio-political life.  Hence, I am overjoyed to see these pretty flowers within the exhibition ‘How to live together’.

                                                                                                                                               Thilo Westermann                          Berlin, August 2017
Thilo Westermann, is an artist,  art historian and lover of nature and flowers
The exhibition ‘How to live together’ at Kunsthalle Wien closes on Oct. 15th, 2017. Willem de Rooij’s retrospective show ‘Whiteout’ opens at Kunstwerke Berlin on Sept. 13th, 2017 (through Dec. 17th, 2017).

 

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Keisai Eisen (1790-1848) ‘The Courtesan Nanahito Making Tea, 1815-42’ by Francesco Nevola

Keisai Eisen (1790-1848) ‘The Courtesan Nanahito Making Tea, 1815-42’,  O-ban woodblock print; written by Francesco Nevola (sketch 05/written 31.12.2016)

A beautiful afternoon sipping a lovely green tea in a porcelain tea cup, sharing  with my readers the lovely ‘sketch 05’  sent from my contributor writer, Francesco Nevola.

photo (the Japanese gallery,London)

In this early nineteenth century print one of the most ancient of Japanese rituals is being performed: the making of tea. In contrast to the tranquillity of the ritual, its representation here is shown with singular dynamic force. The image captures the full extent of Ukyo-e elegance. The culture of the ‘floating-world’ pervaded Japanese capital, Edo, into the final years of the nineteenth century, as the nation opened up to the west. While the rich robes warn by Nanahito and the fine accoutrements she handles with such poise, all speak of time honoured traditions, this work’s composition, with its bold geometries and its stark white ground anticipate the aesthetic of western modernism, while its striking colouristic juxtapositions recall the bright brash signs of pop-art a century later. For all its apparent celebration of traditional Japanese aesthetic values, the bold structure of Keisai Eisen’s composition signals the future.

Text © Francesco Nevola

Francesco Nevola, a fabulous scholar of Piranesi

Nevola’s sketch 01 “The Sanctuary of the Tomba Brion”

Nevola’s sketch 09 “The Temple of Aphea II”

see older post on life and work of Francesco Nevola https://venetiakapernekasblog.com/2015/06/11/italyteverina-mountains-cortona-deanna-maganias-and-franciso-nevola-house-and-studio/

 

New York “Imperfection in Eero Saarinen’s MIT Chapel” by Andrew Ferentinos

Honoured to present this morning my new contributor writer in my blog, Andrew Ferentinos, architect, industrial furniture designer, based in New York); “Imperfection in Eero Saarinen’s MIT Chapel”  photos @Andrew Ferentinos   www. andrewferentinos.com and follow on Instagram: Ferentinos
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photo @Andrew Ferentinos

The MIT Chapel by Eero Saarinen has always intrigued me. The architecture is simple and direct. It embodies a rare universality and timelessness.

The chapel was dedicated in 1955 by the Kresge Foundation for The Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Its mission is to serve as a non-denominational space of worship. As the dedication at the entrance states, its purpose is “to maintain an atmosphere of religious freedom wherein students may deepen their understanding of their own spiritual heritage.” In other words the chapel must resonate and evoke feelings and thoughts with people across culture and time.

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photo@Andrew Ferentinos

Upon approach, we see a cylinder sitting on top of a shallow pool of water. Low arches of various sizes skip across the pool and seem to hover. Underneath we see a concrete shell that is separate from the cylinder and barely visible. There are no windows in this large volume. We only see a blank wall and anticipate the interior.

The blank wall has an oddness about it. The brick has an irregular texture. Saarinen adopted rejected bricks from a brickworks precisely for the beauty in their imperfection, a subtle statement that goes beyond brick and mortar and speaks about the purpose of the chapel.

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photo @Andrew Ferentinos

We enter the vestibule. It is dark and intimate. This long and slender space leads to the chapel through a small opening. As our eyes adjust to the dim light, the dark glass walls of the vestibule change color. They brighten. Like a monochromatic Ad Reinhardt painting, the dark glass releases subtle shades of color. Each pane of glass, like the brick, appears hand made reflecting the imperfections of the brick.

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photo@Andrew Ferentinos

When we enter the chapel we are struck by what we see. We are caught between opposites. Our attention focuses on a perfectly geometric and rectangular marble altar at the center of the space. In the background, the interior walls undulate and radiate. The shimmering gold sculpture by Harry Bertoia flutters down from the oculus above like leaves falling to the ground. The varying angles of the petals mirror the varying angles of the imperfect brick. The entire chapel is a frozen moment in time and space except for the one solid piece of marble in the center. It is our only sense of stability, perfection, and permanence in an otherwise dynamic and irregular field. (Andrew Ferentinos) 

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photo@Andrew Ferentinos

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photo@Andrew Ferentinos
Andrew Ferentinos opened his architecture office Ferentinos Architecture in 2012 after working in New York City for such prestigious architects as Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM), Raimund Abraham, and Francois de Menil.
Ferentinos studied architecture and art at The Cooper Union in New York City and at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He received a BArch from Cooper Union and an advanced Masters degree from MIT. He is a professionally licensed architect.   (follow his amazing Instagram: Ferentinos)

New York; guest writer;Wayne Northcross on “The Most Incredible Thing’ at New York City Ballet

Premiere
February 2, 2016, David H. Koch Theater
Original Cast: Taylor Stanley, Sterling Hyltin, Amar Ramasar Ask la Cour, Russell Janzen, Tiler Peck  ;  Length: 45 Min
Costumes by : Marcel Dzama, supervised by Marc Happel
Set by: Marcel Dzama
Lighting by: Brandon Stirling Baker

Justin Peck’s  “The Most Incredible Thing “premiered on February 2, 2016, at NYCB’s annual New Combinations Evening.  Peck and composer Bryce Dessner (The National) had invited visual artist Marcel Dzama to collaborate with them on a new work for New York City Ballet; Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Most Incredible Thing”is  a lesser-known fairytale by the Danish author published in 1870.

I had the honour to be invited by my dear friend and wonderful writer Wayne Northcross to enjoy  this fabulous performance.  Wayne Northcross had been commissioned to write for the New York Observer, but few days ago  he  delivered to me a splendid text to be  hosted at VKblog.

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“I have been following visual artist Marcel Drama and ballet choreographer Justin Peck for months leading up to premiere of the New York City Ballet’s The Most Incredible Thing, their collaborative ballet based on the 1870 story by Hans Christian Andersen. I hadn’t been hanging outside the David Koch Theater trying to sneak a peek backstage at the dancers, sets and costumes I’ve heard so much about. No. I have been following Peck and Dzama on Instagram, marveling at how much I could preview of Dzama’s highly detailed and beautiful sketches for the costumes and sets as well as at Peck’s posts of dancers en pointe, executing jetes or arabesques. My favorite image is one Peck posted a few weeks ago of him and Dzama, smiling and sitting cross-legged on stage in front of Dzama’s painted backdrop of a double-headed firebird. This image got me thinking about how collaboration among artists from various disciplines can either ignite or spark a mutually creative enterprise or how competing and highly unique abilities can make partnering go up in flames. Then I attended a dress rehearsal after which I stopped looking so much at Instagram. Seeing the ballet in person or gleaning aspects of it on my phone, two things became quite clear: the production is stunningly beautiful and fully realized, full of visual and technical complexities; Drama and Peck have arrived at a seamless, mutually beneficial collaborative style.

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Sterling Hyltin and Taylor Stanley in Justin Peck’s “The Most Incredible Thing” Photo credit @ Barbara Anastacio resource: NYC Ballet Photo blog

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Tiler Peck in Justin Peck’s “The Most Incredible Thing” Photo credit @Barbara Anastacio,                                               resource: NYCBalletPhotoblog

Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of a king who declares that whoever in his kingdom creates the most incredible thing in the world will be awarded the hand of the princess and half the kingdom could be seen as story ballet primer. All the dramatic elements are here. Fantastically costumed characters, a battle between the forces of good and evil, magic, and frustrated romance. In Peck’s adaptation the main characters have been tweaked a little but still include The Creator of the most incredible thing, a large magical clock, The Princess, The King, and The Destroyer of said clock. The cast grows to accommodate 45 dancers and 11 children who make up the allegorical and symbolic figures and who emerge from the clock: Three Kings, Adam & Eve, The Cuckoo Bird, Four Seasons, Five Senses, Nine Muses. A lot of bodies for Peck to choreograph—at one point all the dancers are on stage at the same time. For Dzama this requires a lot of patterned tights, feathers, headdresses, masks, swords, and spears. 37 costumes in all. Not as easy as it looks, but a seamless collaboration between the two makes it seem so.

New York City Ballet The Most Incredible Thing, costumes Photographer: Erin Baiano 646.228.5917

“The Most Incredible Thing”; costumes, photo@ Erian Baiano

 

Gonzalo Garcia, Jared Angle, and Daniel Applebaum The Most Incredible Thing, costumes New York City Ballet Photographer: Erin Baiano 646.228.5917Three O’Clock: The Three Kings, dancers Gonzalo Garcia, Jared Angle, Daniel Applebaum. Photo @Erin Baiano

You are meant to see the creation and destruction of this most wonderful thing by the Destroyer in the ballet as an allusion to the artist’s struggle to create and express his or her artistic genius in a fickle and easily distracted world. You could also push the story’s symbolism further to include the push-pull dynamic of collaboration that Peck and Dzama had to go through to create and destroy a little piece of their own unique vision, sublimating autonomy in service of the In a collaboration consensus and integrity are key goals. Dzama developed the costumes over time, downscaling his initial ideas to fit Peck’s choreography. For his part Peck had to give more room to accommodate Dzama’s version, which for him was a new way of working. (Wayne Northcross) 

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Indiana Woodward backstage wearing a costume from Justin Peck’s “The Most Incredible Thing”,photo credit@Barbara Anastacio; resource: NYCBalletPhotoblog

Marcel Drama, is represented by David Zwirner Gallery, New York/London

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