Dutch Pavilion

Designed by Gerrit Rietveld in the early 1950s, the Dutch Pavilion has the exact squareness and the high-functionality characteristics that feels alluring to me. Influenced by De Stijl movement, Gerrit Rietveld also designed the famous Red and Blue Chair in 1917. During my first two years of college, in a design class I helped in a team to construct a version of the Red and Blue Chair. It was surprising to realize its simplicity in design and that all the joints were connected by different wood blocks intersecting with no use of nails or screws. What was essential was that each block of wood needed to be measured out and cut to the exact lengths as indicated in the construction diagram. Later as I entered art school, upon learning about Piet Mondrian's Composition with Yellow Blue and Red I immediately saw the visual correspondence between Gerrit Rietveld's chair and the painting. The chair seemed as if like the painting but occupying a physical space in three dimensionality. Although for the initial design of the chair in 1917, it was not painted in these primary colors until in the 1920s. For Il Palazzo Enciclopedico- 55. Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte, la Biennale di Venezia artist Mark Manders constructed Room with Broken Sentence in keeping with some of the historical references.  Inside the pavilion, the artist attempts to establish a dialogue with the architecture while at the same time plays with our perception of time and space.

Window with Fake Newspapers
2005-2013 / offset print on paper, cellotape

Curated by Lorenzo Benedetti Room with Broken Sentence is a separate experience of its own apart from all the rest.  Upon entering into the space, one immediately notice that all the glass window and entry way are entirely covered and thus stops the transparency and disconnects the outside viewing from the inside viewing.  Manders used fake newspapers to enclose the exhibition space and created an inner world of which quite literally disconnects the viewer from association with the exterior experience.  The use of fake newspapers instead of real newspapers is to break free from any direct reference with specific time periods or events.  Although the original intention was to allow only one visitor at a time as to wander inside an exclusively interior space, however during such a busy opening time one would just have to imagine that there was just oneself and no one else in the room.  I like the idea of being enclosed to a private interior space as to explore and discover an universe that departs from reality and the present moment.  So I go on in.  

Window with Fake Newspapers
2005-2013 / offset print on paper, cellotap

With no association of the current or past events or places, the pavilion gives the impression that I am looking at works that could have been made twenty-four years ago or twenty-four hours ago.  To tide back to the idea of Il Palazzo Enciclopedico I described in the previous post, and in a press pamphlet Manders pointed out that like the words in an encyclopedia, they are linked together in one big super-moment that is always attached to the here and now.*  Once again, here I am seeing a connection with the past, present and future simultaneously linked to one and other (and this is to become more evident later).  But let's focus on the present for the moment.

The newspapers used here consist of all the words existing in the English language.  When I  read the papers,  the words do not form coherent sentences nor provide any comprehensible information.  The text read as if concrete poetry that its art and meaning is self contained within the individual words and arrangements alone.  Typographically it assumes the printing formats of news headlines, sub-headings, paragraphs, columns and etc., but its meaning is free.  To avoid direct association or identification with the specific, the images included in the newspapers are mostly taken of the studio dust that once laid in the artist's working studio. These images like the works inside the pavilion, they seem arbitrary but at the same time as if a work in progress.  

Shadow Study (Femur and Upper Arm Bone Connected by One Single Shadow)
2011 / iron, painted epoxy, painted porcelain / 64 x 64 x 151.5 cm
Courtesy of Zeno X Gallery and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
Photo: Jan Kempenaers

From l. to r: Girl with Yellow Vertical (2013); Head Study (2012-2013); Head Study (2012-2013); Girl Study (2013); Girl Study (2013) / wood, painted wood, painted epoxy, brass, painted canvas, painted wig / 16.5 x 16 x 41 cm Courtesy of Zeno X Gallery and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
Photo: Jan Kempenaers

Once inside, it looks white, feels spacious and still lingers a little of the artist's presence.  As it presents multiple studies of heads from conventionally sized to colossal.  Shadow Study (Femur and Upper Arm Bone Connected by One Single Shadow) welcomes me to my right side and the first piece of work to see as I enter.  Utilizing the natural lighting that Rietveld intended to encase in the pavilion, a shadow of an upside down coffee cup is casting over two replicated human bones.  The bones are casts of the artist's own right femur and his left upper arm bone.  A few times a day in his studio, Manders discovered a shadow cast by the a cup close to his upper leg bone.  Then he realized that if he turned the cup upside down there would be like a shadow falling down upon his leg.  In order to preserve that moment of subtlety and poetry, he made it into a sculpture.  Here the artist's interpretation of the sculpture is like an object that is frozen in time and when a single moment has been stopped it allows one to physically and mentally relate to the moment.  

Composition with Blue, 2013 Wood, painted wood, painted epoxy 33,5 x 13,5 x 23 cm
Courtesy Zeno X Gallery, Antwerp and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York Photo: Cedric Verhelst

When it comes to time, Manders pointed that time as we know it arose with the birth of thought, and of course this new perception of time only really took hold at the point when language emerged.**  Then, there is pertinence in seeing these studies of heads as where most of the thoughts emerge.  One note I want to add on, about the material used for these head studies- though parts of it look to be made out of clay.  As if it would crack and decay with the passage of time, however this is a trick to the eye- they are actually painted to look like clay when in fact are made of wood.  Apparently sandwiched in between pieces of painted wood, here the head study is divided in three main parts physically occupying the space. 

In the Composition with Blue, somehow the title reminds me the title of Mondrian's Composition with Yellow Blue and Red.  For this piece Manders mentioned in the press pamphlet that he made this work in 2013.  It really should have been made in the 1920s.* Instead of a composition like Mondrian's that runs vertically and horizontally across, here the composition exists mainly in the vertical.  Referring back to what Manders said, it is a composition with vertical that forms one harmonious musical chord, and it covers a small gap in art history.*  Here to me, it also seems to tide back into the notion of how time exists only in human conscious mind and that in thinking the mind somehow separates or considers itself separate from the body.  Furthermore, when the mind is preoccupied with thinking we rely more on our impressions and memories of things that are not always anchored in the present.  So if we can look at this piece as if a head divided into three sections- painted blue, head and wood vertical; it echoes what Manders once said about man's consciousness of the present and that it was split up into three areas rather than one: it was henceforth in competition with the future, and the past with ideas conveyed in language.** 

Short Sad Thoughts, 1990 / brass, nails / 22 x 3 cm (x2)
Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven
Photo taken by me inside Dutch Pavilion
Room with Broken Sentence (detail)
Courtesy of Zeno X Gallery and Tanya Bonakdar Gallery
Photo: Jan Kempenaers

To continue the exploration of mind and thoughts, Short Sad Thoughts has an interesting title.  Before getting to the title, this piece may look light and easy to miss in comparison with the other ones of heavier physical presence.  For me this piece carries an interesting narrative, one that looks mysterious and curious.  This work looks as if it could have been quite simply made with the use of two nails onto the wall and two pieces of bending brass.  In actuality, it took laborious effort for Manders to bend the brass to these shapes and he chose to do it twice.  Thus twice the labor to arrive at what appears to be thoughts in brevity.  Now, the title of this piece recedes into the material on two levels according to the artist- first a thought that lets itself be conducted upwards from the lower left-hand side, around the nail and back down again; the second is the thought process of actually bending the material.*  Constructed in 1990, Short Sad Thoughts was Manders' first attempt to accommodate the passage of time in the otherwise immobile Self-Portrait as a Building.  For those who are not familiar, in the mid-1980s Manders launched his career with Self-Portrait as a Building.  Though initially the self-portrait was going to be done in writing with pencils, ballpoint pens and erasers, then Manders realized that language was too limited for expressing all the different degrees of complexity he encountered in life.  From then on, he decided to draw a floor plan so as to allow him to make more clear interpretations and depictions of his interior space and his experience of all things that surrounded him as well as their physical relationship as he perceived them.  

In the beginning I mentioned that in the Dutch Pavilion the artist's physical presence felt to be lingering about slightly.  Room with Broken Sentence (see image above), makes it more poignant, as there are pieces of left-over wooden bars and boards that look as if parts of the head study pieces leaning against one side.  On the other side, there are plastic wrappings that commonly seen in a gallery back room or artist studio used for packing or covering works of art.  It seems to be covering a work in progress, but the actual answer is not clear whether it has been left this way or if the artist is coming back to finish it up.  Then leaning against the wall facing us, there is a perspective study of a fake newspaper.  Since the Renaissance, every artist ought to make at least one perspective study and Manders made his with his fake newspaper.  By leaning the piece against the wall it increases the perspective effect for the viewer's eye. 

In this "room", the eye inevitably lands on the more intact or seemingly of a more finished form and it is the one laying on the floor.  Fox / Mouse / Belt is a piece that represents both the present and the future.  Here, the fox laying on the floor actually depicts a fox in the middle of a leap and the mouse is another little animal that would have been the food of the fox.  Thus, the mouse ends up in the fox's stomach of that and of which would have otherwise been invisible to the human eye.  Evidently, the human action is made obvious not only by the visibility of the mouse in the belly area of the fox but also it appears to have been physically attached to the fox by a leather belt.  The sculpture attempts to capture a moment in the future while at the same time it exists in the present moment.  Manders have almost always chose to exhibition his works in the context of a museum or art gallery, and almost never in a public place where art could be placed without description and out of context.  However, this piece is an exception for he made three versions of Fox / Mouse / Belt.  As seen here, one is exhibiting inside the pavilion during the Venice Biennial, also there is one in a small supermarket in Via Garibaldi in Venice, last but not least one more could be seen at MoMA in New York.  If you happen to be visiting New York that is where I am based and live then you are able to see a piece of Manders' work without the trouble of going to Venice.  Though to be fair, traveling to Venice could hardly be thought of as trouble with the exception of one having to get over some initial jet-lag.  

Fox / Mouse / Belt 1992 / painted bronze, belt / 15 x 120 x 40 cm
Photo: Jan Kempenaers
*Text from an interview included in the press pamphlet
**Text from an interview published online by Mousse Magazine

Padiglione olandese
55. Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte, La Biennale di Venezia

1 giugno - 24 Novembre 2013
Curatore: Lorenzo Benedetti
Commissario: Mondriaan Fund


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