Twice a year, the Gemeentemuseum mounts an exhibition featuring a combination of works from the Monique Zajfen Collection and works from its own holdings. These exhibitions are held in a dedicated exhibition space known as the Vincent Award Room.
Weischer (b. 1973, Rheine, Germany) is among the most attention-grabbing exponents of German painting today. His work is represented both in the Monique Zajfen Collection and in the Gemeentemuseum’s own painting collection. Taken together, the items in the two collections illustrate recent developments in the artist’s work.
At the start of his career, Matthias Weischer was a member of the renowned Neue Leipziger Schule (New Leipzig School). The artists considered to belong to this group – who include Neo Rauch, David Schnell and Martin Kobe – are conspicuous primarily for the theatrical nature of their paintings and their giant canvases. Weischer’s early works show age-worn interiors and forgotten studios frozen in time. As a viewer, you long to know the story behind them and associate what you see with your own past or with old photographs. The paintings in the Monique Zajfen Collection date from 2006 – 2007 and illustrate this early period in the artist’s career.
After 2007, Weischer began to paint more freely, intuitively and spontaneously and the paintings became smaller and more poetic. No longer filled with a multitude of different objects, they now focused on single subjects, such as a tree trunk, cloth or skull. The colours Weischer used at this time are reminiscent of Italian frescos. Paneele, a painting from the museum’s own collection, illustrates this development in a particularly interesting way, since it was begun in 2006 but not completed until 2008. After 2008, Weischer still occasionally painted large, semi-ornamental depictions of interiors, parks or gardens but increasingly dared to omit figurative elements (although his art never became completely abstract).
In 2011, Weischer discovered pulp painting. His principal material became a refined paper pulp coloured in advance and applied to a paper support using large pipettes. Weischer began experimenting with this technique in collaboration with Gangolf Ulbricht (Berlin) and Sue Gosin (New York), sometimes using it in combination with other mediums, such as screen printing. Pulp painting forces him to work quickly and there is little room for error. The development is illustrated by ‘Booth’ (2013), a pulp painting in the collection of the Gemeentemuseum.
Damien Hirst, in dialogue with Rodolphe Bresdin and Odilon Redon
Damien Hirst (b. 1965) is not only fascinated by death, but likes to draw on traditional art historical themes and examples to inspire his work. The sombre theme of this show – the Latin phrase memento mori means ‘remember that you will die’ – was illustrated by a series of Hirst’s 2008 Memento etchings (from the Monique Zajfen Collection), displayed in dialogue with works by Rodolphe Bresdin (1822-1885) and his student Odilon Redon (1840-1916) (from the collection of the Gemeentemuseum).
Bresdin and Redon saw death as a mystery passing human understanding, whereas the memento mori theme in Hirst’s work is far less menacing and admonitory. A warning of the constant threat of death and the precariousness of life on earth, the memento mori theme appears regularly in works of art down the centuries. It was particularly popular in the seventeenth century, when innumerable paintings pointed to the vanity of earthly existence, symbolised not just by skulls, but by a host of other objects, such as wilting flowers, clocks and snuffed candles. But the theme continued to be a major source of inspiration in subsequent centuries.
Damien Hirst’s diamond-studded skull entitled For the Love of God (2007) is an iconic part of his oeuvre. Before producing it, he made a series of sketches, one of them inscribed with the title Death Explained. In these sketches, Hirst represents human mortality in a more clinical way, in which the decay of the body inspires neither fear nor resignation in the face of death. The skulls depicted in Hirst’s Memento etchings are a reminder of death; they give a final image of a face. Because of their short life cycle, the butterflies that also feature in the series stand for the transitory nature of life. Hirst chooses butterflies because they also symbolize metamorphosis and resurrection. Their colourful, spread wings accompany the skulls in a regular pattern that suggests infinity.
Bresdin was a French artist well-known for his drawings, lithographs and engravings. His etchings and drawings are remarkable for their detail and technical precision. As a Symbolist artist, his student Redon expressed his inner feelings in visionary, dreamlike images and depictions of imaginary beings. This exhibition included a selection of Bresdin and Redon prints in which death is a key preoccupation. Their macabre, morbid atmosphere has a nightmarish quality. Hanging these works in the same space as Damien Hirst’s etchings created a surprising confrontation and an interesting tension between the two.
Full, rounded hips, small breasts, creamy white skin and luxuriant hair: in the sixteenth century, this was the archetype of the ideal woman. The female nude is a constant theme in art history. Nude used a combination of works from the Monique Zajfen Collection and items from the holdings of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag to show how contemporary art addresses the subject. Unlike the traditional, idealised artistic nude, the works were explicit, surrealistic and sometimes even frightening.
At first sight the drawings and works on paper that were featured in Nude come across as nothing short of pornographic. But what is really striking about them is that they are concerned not so much with the physical attractiveness of the women they portray as with their state of mind. Stories are suggested, whispered to us. These are vulnerable, pensive women, but the stories are also sinister and disturbing. The chromatic, stylistic and situational context in which these nudes are placed only adds to the unreal and desolate mood. The show featured works by Lisa Yuskavage, Michael Kirkham, Martin Eder, Mike Kelley and George Condo.
In the Picture features painters who take photography as their point of departure. Ever since it was developed in the nineteenth century, photography has offered artists new ways of doing things. It can serve not only as a technical tool, but as a means of looking at the world in a new way. For example, photographs can enable painters to experiment with composition, framing, colour and lighting effects. By transferring the photographic image to the canvas, they consciously place it in a different context.
This show focuses primarily on contemporary artists but also includes work by George Hendrik Breitner (1857-1923), one of the first painters ever to engage extensively with photography. He used his own photographs as a source for his paintings. They served as sketches, technical tools and aides-mémoire. However, fearing adverse criticism, Breitner was always cautious about mentioning the use he made of photography.
In the late 1950s, Pop Art practitioners like Andy Warhol (1928-1987) began using existing images from newspapers, advertising and other visual media in their work. Unlike Breitner, they were quite open about this. Photography was no longer merely an aid; it was an integral part of the work of art. All of the painters featured in this exhibition treat or manipulate photographic images that they have selected from the media, from historical sources, from the Internet or from among their own snapshots. For instance, Marlene Dumas (b. 1953) and Rob Birza (b. 1962) each chose a photograph dealing with a current political issue to become the basis for a work on show in this exhibition. Tjebbe Beekman (b. 1972) chose a picture of the urban environment, while Natasja Kensmil (b. 1973) based her painting on a period picture postcard.
Daniel Richter (b. 1962) combines photographic images drawn from the mass media, pop culture and (art) history to produce unconventional new narrative tableaux. He selects these particular mass media images because he feels they have an iconic quality and say something about the society in which we live. He also experiments with various kinds of lighting and image manipulation. As a result, figures in his work look semi-transparent, as if X-rayed or photographed with a thermal imaging camera. Wilhelm Sasnal likewise uses an extremely wide range of source material, including press photos, film and television stills, picture books, comic strips and reproductions of Old Masters. Even mobile phone shots of his private life can become points of departure for his paintings.
Long corridors, cluttered studios and rooms devoid of human presence. Empty interiors are the subject of this latest presentation in the Vincent Award Room, in which works from the Monique Zajfen Collection are combined with items from the in-house collection of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. Whether portrayed by great 19th-century painters like Toorop and Weissenbruch or depicted by contemporary artists like Matthias Weischer, all the interiors in this show are like bizarre still lifes: these spaces are eerily quiet; no-one is there and nothing is happening.
The empty interior as subject
Artists have often used interiors as backgrounds: settings for genre scenes, mythological tales or historical events. But for centuries the empty interior has also been a favourite subject. In the 19th century, artists regularly painted their own studios. Inspired by 17th-century studio scenes, they produced carefully orchestrated still lifes of tables, brushes, frames and easels, or dusty interiors full of props like skulls and ceramics. The absence of narrative or human presence seems to give the interior a character of its own. Modern and contemporary artists have taken this a step further. The early pictures of time-worn interiors and abandoned studios painted by German artist Matthias Weischer evoke the past and therefore reference our own memories. In his quest to find a way to depict the interior life itself, Weischer has omitted more and more elements. But his ‘Resonanzräume’, rooms for reflection, never become completely abstract. The presentation Space as portraiture comprises 12 works by Jan Toorop, Gino Severini, Marie van Regteren Altena, Johannes Bosboom, Jan Weissenbruch, Frans Zwartjes, George Hendrik Breitner, Matthias Weischer and Lilian Kreutzberger.
The Vincent Award
The Vincent Award is one of the world’s leading contemporary art prizes. It is awarded to a European mid-career artist whose work is regarded as influential on international developments in contemporary art. The purpose of the Vincent Award is both to encourage artistic talent and to promote communication in a free, united and peaceful Europe. The Vincent Award was launched by the Broere Charitable Foundation in 2000. It was established in memory of Monique Zajfen, a beloved friend of the Broere family and former holder of Galerie 121 in Antwerp. It was her commitment to and passion for contemporary art that inspired the Broere Foundation to institute the award and to seek to encourage artistic talent in Europe. Since 2014, the organization of the prize has been in the hands of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag.
The previous winners prize are Eija-Liisa Ahtila (2000), Neo Rauch (2002), Pawel Althamer (2004), Wilhelm Sasnal (2006), Deimantas Narkevičius (2008) and Anri Sala (2014). The artists shortlisted for the Vincent Award 2016 are Nairy Baghramian (b. Iran, lives and works in Berlin), Manon de Boer (b. Netherlands, lives and works in Brussels), João Maria Gusmão + Pedro Paiva (Portugal), Jutta Koether (Germany) and Slavs and Tatars (established in Eurasia in 2006, now based in Berlin).
Monique Zajfen Collection
The Gemeentemuseum maintains a close and continuous collaborative relationship with the Broere Charitable Foundation. As part of this, the museum holds the Monique Zajfen Collection on long-term loan. This is among the foremost private collections of contemporary art in the Netherlands. In addition to pieces by four earlier winners of The Vincent Award, it features works by top contemporary artists like Marlene Dumas, Luc Tuymans, Thomas Schütte and Stephan Balkenhol. Twice a year exhibitions of items from the Monique Zajfen Collection are held in the Gemeentemuseum’s dedicated Vincent Award Room.
How did Piet Mondrian interpret one of the most popular religious scenes in early Western art? What did the figure of Christ mean to James Ensor? This exhibition offers some unexpected angles on the theme of religion and belief in modern and contemporary art. The presentation in the Vincent Award Room is a chance to compare and contrast eleven works that deal with religion, the forces of nature, esoterica, mysticism, ritual, spirituality and magic.
Religion and belief have been a regular theme in works of art over the centuries. Inspired by conventionally religious or other beliefs, artists have sought to give visual expression to supernatural powers thought to give deeper meaning to our earthly existence. This new exhibition in the Vincent Award Room invites visitors to look for similarities and differences in symbolism, composition and ideas.
In Anka in Tokyo (2006), Polish artist Wilhelm Sasnal (b. 1972) offers an image of the uncontrollable power of nature. In the foreground, a silhouetted figure looks on as a catastrophic tidal wave destroys the outside world. In the Bible, such natural disasters are often seen as punishment sent by God. Sasnal leaves it to the viewer to decide whether this particular tsunami is a form of divine retribution.
The paintings, etchings and drawings of Belgian artist James Ensor (1860-1949) often show an interest in religion. By depicting himself as the Christ figure in his etching of Christ’s Entry into Brussels, Ensor implies a comparison between his own difficult life as an artist and the sufferings of Christ. Tokyo, 1964/Dijon, 1996 also reflects the personal experiences of the maker – Dutch artist Daan van Golden (b. 1936) – but does so in a completely different way. When Van Golden lived and worked in Japan in 1963 and 1964, he encountered oriental philosophies of life. The repeated flower motif in his painting is painted in a meticulous and, indeed, meditative way.
The traditional religious note in Religion and Belief comes from an unexpected quarter: it was Piet Mondrian (1872-1944) who, in 1921, painted the Copy of the Enguerrand Quarton’s Pietà de Villeneuve-Lès-Avignon in response to a commission from art collector Marie Tak van Poortvliet. The original was then regarded as a pinnacle of spirituality in medieval French art. Throughout his life, Mondrian found inspiration in Theosophy and even his later, abstract work has spiritual undertones.
The exhibition also include works by Marlene Dumas, Odilon Redon, Luc Tuymans, Jacoba van Heemskerck, Erich Wichmann, Ferdinand Hodler and Hans Arp.
Monique Zajfen Collection & the Vincent Award Room
The Monique Zajfen Collection is the property of the Broere Charitable Foundation. It is a contemporary art collection that includes works by eminent artists like Marlene Dumas, Luc Tuymans, Thomas Schütte and Stephan Balkenhol. The basis of the collection is formed by purchases of works by winners of the Vincent Award, a biennial prize for European contemporary art. The Vincent Award was launched by the Broere Charitable Foundation in 2000. It was established in memory of Monique Zajfen, a beloved friend of the Broere family and former holder of Galerie 121 in Antwerp. It was her commitment to and passion for contemporary art that inspired the Broere Foundation to institute the award and to seek to encourage artistic talent in Europe.
Since 2014, the Monique Zajfen Collection has been on long-term loan to the Gemeentemuseum. The museum organizes twice-yearly exhibitions featuring a combination of works from the Monique Zajfen Collection and items from its own holdings. The exhibitions are held in a dedicated space known as the Vincent Award Room.