Article by Emily McDermott, photos by Anna Russ in Rotterdam // Saturday, Feb. 9, 2018
With 70 galleries in its Main Section and more than 20 in its New Art Section, Art Rotterdam provides an amusing, if exhausting, array of contemporary works from around the world. The majority of the galleries at the fair are from the Netherlands, although many are also from Germany and Belgium. Toting the slogan “The fair to discover young art,” Art Rotterdam, unlike other fairs, strays from the standard booth format in an additional four segments: Projections, Intersections, Open Air and Commonities. In a darkened room, complete with ample benches and headphones, Projections features video works by artists like Juliette Blightman, Hans op de Beeck and Laure Prouvost, while Open Air presents a number of sculptures and installations outside, including the immersive piece ‘Silent Room’ by Simon Heijdens, which offers a meditational ambiance disconnected from the chaos of the booths inside. Although Commonities features galleries in booths, the galleries did not apply for the fair but were rather invited by a curator. Furthermore, these booths are all interconnected thanks to openings along the back walls. As part of Intersections, in an area lacking booths entirely and keeping the warehouse looks of the Van Nelle factory in which Art Rotterdam takes place, young local artists are given space to show installations, videos, and even durational performances.
Focusing on Commonities and the Main and New Art sections of the fair, we are particularly fond of Berlin gallery PSM‘s solo presentation of Catherine Biocca‘s ‘Alexander the Great.’ On a PVC print, Biocca employs trompe l’oeil to nearly double the size of the booth, which has orange carpeting. She hangs two real paintings next to three that are printed, but even one printed work regains life from a video animation playing through a hole in the PVC. Despite the bright blues, oranges, purples and greens that cover her canvases, the works all convey an underlying sense of death with cartoonish characters who are literally and figuratively “losing their coins.”
In two other solo presentations, the artists use photography to distort realities and create fictional universes. Plus-One (Antwerp) shows ‘Detox Your Thoughts – Disturb Reality,’ a booth plastered in provocative images by Beni Bischof. Bischof combines and appropriates fashion photography, magazines, books and pop culture iconography to comment on the banalities of daily life. A hysterically screaming woman replaces the stars of the American flag; a rough triangle is carved into pages of Vogue Italia; a potato launches into the atmosphere instead of a rocket. Models’ arms, eyes and noses are even replaced with sausages—a food item that happens to recur in at least six other artworks by various artists throughout the fair. In a similarly playful vein, at Galerie Dix9 (Paris) a series of photographs titled ‘Ekaterina’ by Romain Mader depict the artist as he travels to an imaginary city in the Ukraine in search of a girlfriend. He cheekily poses with mail-order brides and documents encounters with various characters along the way, blurring the lines between reality and fiction.
Contrasting Bischof and Mader, many other artworks on view deal with our contemporary relationships to historical events. For example, Dürst Britt & Mayhew (The Hague) show a sculpture and five images by Sybren Renema. The neon sculpture, reading “Great God! This is an awful place,” quotes a diary entry written in 1912 by the British polar explorer Robert Falcon Scott upon reaching the South Pole only to learn that someone else had beaten him there. Another example is the booth of Krokus Gallery (Bratislava), which presents two sculptures by Svätoluk Mikyta that explore political iconography of socialist mass movements as well as nationalist and religious symbols of Eastern Europe.
As a whole, Art Rotterdam lives up to its self-proclaimed definition of a place to discover young art. Although there are familiar names, there is not a single Koons, Pistolletto or Abramović, and mid-level galleries comprise the majority of the fair, with blue chip galleries replaced by young spaces eager to show exciting works by emerging artists.