The Notebook

'Imagination will take you everywhere'

Electric Art at the Stedelijk Museum

From the exterior, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam looks like a giant bathtub. Or maybe a massive blimp.  The shiny white curved edges of the roof could house a giant with a bar of soap and a penchant for cleanliness. But when you enter the outrageous modernist building, it is the art on the walls which blows you away.

In the first room the viewer is met with a bright blue neon sign akin to one of Tracey Emin’s glowing creations – except this artwork is less crude. The fluorescent extravaganza spells: bbbbbrrrrrruuuuuucccccceeee (as in Bruce) by Bruce Nauman, it’s entitled My Name as Though It Were Written on the Surface of the Moon, 1968. It has a distinct contemporary commercial feel which evokes a flashing sign in Times Square, yet the fact that it displays his name makes the installation more personal. The abundance of letters creates a crazy, light-hearted and slightly wacky atmosphere, which perfectly personifies the mood of the city outside. Nauman’s work sets the tone for the rest of the art in the museum; electric, loud and incredibly varied.

Next I stumble upon one of Grayson Perry’s Strangely Familiar pots (2000) which had previously sparked controversy due to the depiction of shocking, distressing and sometimes disturbing imagery. In this pot’s case it displayed a sadomasochistic sex scene. I don’t wish to go into anymore detail. Grayson Perry’s work is often described as being like Marmite; some love it, some hate it. I like the way he (or she if he’s being Claire) addresses difficult taboos through the medium of art. I find his ceramic work particularly interesting as the ornamental, traditional and old-fashioned vases present serious modern issues. This particular vase had quite a vulgar image printed on top of a background of quaint, suburban English houses, with the words “Daddy don’t hit me, Mummy stop him” screen-printed on top. This demonstrates the frequent and sad act of domestic violence which could occur behind the closed doors of any apparently happy, perfect family home; the ultimate portrayal of a fake façade. In my opinion, Perry is one of the leading British artists who are conquering the world.

By far the most challenging and perceptive exhibit hit me next. As I walked into a seemingly dark room, I noticed a plethora of words and linear shapes dancing across the walls and ceiling – the projections were constantly moving as if regenerating (like something out of Doctor Who). It was by a design collective called LUST, which experiments with ‘process-based design’ or ‘self-generating systems’, this is meant to represent the changing meaning of graphic design in the modern world where technology and the constant need for re-invention dictates the world. To me it depicted mankind’s unhealthy fascination with digital media – almost everyone seems to be glued to their iPhone/iPad/iPod these days. So it was an interesting investigation into modern life.

Germaine Richier’s bronze statue, L’Orage ( Storm Man), 1947 – 1948, was the next artwork to catch my eye. The man towered above me, his arms strong and his gaze penetrating. Richier defaced the statue to portray the destruction of war and to depict the horrors that soldiers experienced during World War II. The statue conjured a threatening and intimidating, yet sad and vulnerable atmosphere. Then I wondered down some bright white corridors and discovered a painting of a woman with a fish on her head – it was a Picasso, of course (Seated Woman with Fish Hat, 1942). I also came across a beautiful gold deer standing majestically in the centre of a room, looking up to the heavens – by Ossip Zadkine. There were some big names within the hallowed halls of the Stedelijk; a Lucien Freud – a portrait full of splendid tones, and a colourful splattering by Jackson Pollock.

Finally I reached the end and was met with the crème de la crème. When viewing Van Gogh’s Two Peasants Digging (1889) in close proximity it really makes you appreciate the vivid texture and impasto style of his painting. The thick lines evoke the denseness and weight of the earth the peasants are digging. Last but certainly not least, one of my favourite artists of all time; Claude Monet. His work The House Among the Roses, 1925 – 1926, displayed the loose, languid and flowing brushstrokes typical of the impressionistic style. The pale blue swirls in the sky evoke a tranquil, yet fleeting moment in the depths of Mother Nature. You feel as if you could be in the wild flower meadow, sitting amongst the flowers – I could almost smell the fresh pink roses.

Here are a some other artworks that I found particularly inspiring – some are heavenly creations, others are just downright crazy…

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