Things I Can’t Live Without: Curator Jason Ysenburg on the future of the Vanmoerkerke collection
THE VANMOERKERKE COLLECTION OF CONTEMPORARY ART IS EMBLEMATIC OF THE DYNAMIC ART SCENE THAT HAS DEVELOPED IN BELGIUM AT A TIME WHEN THE COUNTRY IS GARNERING ATTENTION AS AN INTERNATIONAL SOCIOPOLITICAL AND CULTURAL PRESENCE. AS A PIVOTAL DECISION-MAKING CENTER OF THE EUROPEAN UNION, BRUSSELS ENJOYS AN INFLUX OF DIPLOMATS, PUBLIC OFFICIALS AND OTHER PROFESSIONALS THAT HAS REVITALIZED THE CITY’S CULTURAL LIFE AND INSPIRED A SIGNIFICANT SURGE OF COLLECTING OF CONTEMPORARY ART. BUSINESS OPPORTUNITIES AND FAVORABLE TAX LAWS ON CAPITAL GAINS AND INHERITANCE HAVE FURTHER SUPPORTED THE CONTEMPORARY ART SCENE.
MUCH OF THE VANMOERKERKE COLLECTION IS HOUSED IN A RENOVATED INDUSTRIAL BUILDING NEAR THE OLD AIRPORT IN OSTEND, A RESORT TOWN ON THE BELGIAN COAST, AND IN AN ANNEX BUILT IN 2010 FOR MORE SIZABLE ARTWORKS. MARK VANMOERKERKE IS CONSTANTLY CULLING AND EDITING HIS COLLECTION. IN 2008, HE SOLD 500 WORKS AT PHILLIPS, LONDON TO SHARPEN ITS FOCUS ON POST-CONCEPTUAL EUROPEAN AND AMERICAN ART. IN AN INTERVIEW WITH ART AND AUCTION, POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 1, 2012, MARK VANMOERKERKE EXPLAINS, “IF YOU’RE A CRAZY COLLECTOR, YOU RUN OUT OF SPACE.” http://www.artcollection.be/
VANMOERKERKE AND MANY KINDRED PRIVATE BELGIAN COLLECTORS ARE OPENING THEIR PRIVATE EXHIBITION SPACES TO THE INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY OF COLLECTORS, GALLERISTS, DEALERS AND MUSEUM CURATORS WHO TRAVEL THE WORLD TO ATTEND ART FAIRS AND VIEW CONTEMPORARY ART.
CURATOR/DEALER, JASON YSENBURG, RECENTLY APPOINTED DIRECTOR AT GAGOSIAN GALLERY FOLLOWING A LONG TENURE AS CO-DIRECTOR OF THE REVERED SONNABEND GALLERY, WAS A NATURAL CHOICE FOR MARK VANMOERKERKE’S BIANNUAL INVITATION TO CURATE AN EXHIBITION FROM HIS HOLDINGS. JASON’S ANALYSIS OF THE WORK, AS IT SPANS A SENSIBILITY THAT RANGES FROM THE MINIMAL TO THE COMPLEX, IS ACCOMPANIED BY A MARVELOUS ESSAY “THINGS I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT” THAT PROVIDES A CLARIFICATION AND PERSPECTIVE ON THE TWO AESTHETIC INSTINCTS THAT CHARACTERIZE THIS COLLECTOR’S PASSION.
IN CLOSING, JASON WRITES:
Irony and the minimalist impulse
Much of Ed Ruscha’s work could easily have been included in Building 1. His emphasis on formal serialization aligns with that of the Bechers. His insistent repetition of structures, whether gas stations, vacant lots, pools, or parking lots, serves to erase the temporality of the imagine in much the same way that we come to understand in the Becher’s typologies. However, there is a conflicting minimalist impulse in his work, which like Stingel, is self-consciously ironic.
Using a minimal number of ideas within each individual piece, Ruscha, can ironically engage the viewer. For instance, “The Teepees” and “Step On No Pets” critique two different types of Romanticism. “The Teepees” takes on the romantic vision of the American West in the manner of Edward Curtis’s photography. Curtis and others like him manipulated photographic representation to create a picture of a way of life in the American West that never really existed. “The Teepees”, by contrast, captures an historic sense of impending doom: Western settlers on the verge of destroying Native Americans and their culture. And yet, does it? Does the image totally escape the genre in which it stands in critical relation? Is it actually just another Romantic citation of an iconic Native American image?
“Step On No Pets” sets out to tame a cornerstone of Romantic philosophy: the Kantian sublime. The towering mountain peaks, a quintessential example of how the sublime overwhelms the individual viewing subject, in Ruscha’s painting is overwritten with a silly anagram that diminishes the viewer’s feeling of powerless. Or does it? Are we still drawn primarily to the large image of the mountain, almost failing to see the words or notice their anagramic form? Neither image entirely escapes the generic moorings of Romanticism. Wedded to the trope of irony as we are, we are never quite sure whether or not we should take these images seriously.
The viewer’s memory should also pull Lawler back into Building Two, alongside the Ruschas. Her work, “Not Cindy” frames Ruscha’s “Humans” in the context of a woman sitting in a chair with her back to the viewer. Ruscha’s painting plays on the word “Humans” against a very non-human backdrop of silk taffeta. With its open-ended title, Lawler’s image takes Ruscha’s word play at its word. Is the person depicted in the photograph NOT Cindy Sherman, despite the resemblance? Or is the NOT Cindy a reference to the fact the painting depicted in the photograph is NOT by any Cindy but rather is a work by Ed Ruscha? The memory trace of Lawler’s image, re-contextualized in Building Two, could be re-title as “Not Ruscha”. Lawler makes it possible to frame an ironic image ironically.
Singularity and the force of form
Banks Violette needs only one object to overwhelm the room and the viewer: “Pentastar”. The work of art looms over us, practically forcing out anyone from the room. Its massive form is inescapable; we almost can’t look away. The subtitle of the work, “in the style of Demons”, evokes the menacing nature of minimalism and allows Violette to emphasize that the minimalist is not also the minimally impactful. Strangely enough, we could call the work perhaps even sublime. The singular emphasis on the force of size, evocative of Richard Serra’s sculptures, creates new spaces that force us to rethink our relationship not only to the art object but also to space itself.
The Future of Collection…
These are the things the collection can’t live without today. However, the continual play of the desire for Maximalism alongside the desire for Minimalism will assure that there is some tomorrow when the collection will be different, a yet to be determined collection of things I can’t live without tomorrow.
CHRISTMAS IS AROUND THE CORNER! HARD TO BELIEVE SINCE THANKSGIVING FEELS JUST A TURKEY LEG AWAY. START MAKING YOUR LIST (AND CHECKING IT TWICE)….
FOR THOSE YOU HOLD NEAR AND DEAR, CONSIDER A VERY SPECIAL GIFT OF A UNIQUE ARTIST’S BOOK. UNLIKE AN ART BOOK, A CATALOGUE OR MONOGRAPH THAT DOCUMENTS WORKS MADE IN ANOTHER MEDIUM (PAINTING, SCULPTURE, PHOTOGRAPHY), ARTISTS’ BOOKS ARE CONCEIVED BY THE ARTIST AS ARTWORKS IN THEIR OWN RIGHT.
IN THE NEXT LRFA BLOG, I WELCOME THE EXPERTISE OF BOOK DEALER, DOUG FLAMM, WHO WILL INFORM US OF SOME OF THE VERY SPECIAL PUBLICATIONS THAT ARE CURRENTLY AVAILABLE AT URSUS BOOKS AND WOULD GRACE ANY CHRISTMAS STOCKING!