Friday, 11 April 2014

Dam! Top Ten

Being a creature of habit, upon returning from my holiday in Amsterdam I felt compelled to comprise the usual top ten format of personal highlights from this year's trip.
Enjoy! (who knows if you're possibly planning a trip there yourself, it may even prove to be useful!)
1.) Suspension Bridge/Road
I'm not really for the opinion that some people will 'get' this and others just won't preferring to think that its all a matter of perspective (in more cases than one), but I found this road surface to be rather stunningly, albeit incidentally, beautiful. True, it is just a road, as normal or unique as any road anywhere (and I wouldn't have noticed it had it not been raised to allow a boat to pass through) but seeing it vertical  made it appear as though it were a painting, a Tapies, Robert Motherwell or more neutral Barnett Newman. It was really quite exciting. The surface of the road itself met with the horizontals of the crossing barrier and diagonals of the tram line cut by the flat blueness of the sky makes for a fairly dynamic composition visually (the photo hopefully goes some way to picture what I am explaining). Like most of my holidays I had come to Amsterdam to see art and as is often the case end up seeing as much in the gallery as out and about exploring. I don't intentionally look for these things and see their spontaneity as part of the appeal.    
2.) Bridges
 If bridges are your thing then Amsterdam is the place for you (or Venice). Not much to say really other than many of the bridges in Amsterdam are swing bridges which are particularly sculptural and interesting to look-at. A good idea to travel both over and under them in a boat and preferably on a bike (in keeping with the Amsterdam theme).
3.) Rembrandt Etchings
The second pleasant surprise about Amsterdam for me, was Rembrandt's etchings in Rembrandt House. It is almost impossible to go the city, where the Dutch born etcher and painter lived/worked, without hearing him mentioned or seeing his portrait festooned on postcards, t-shirts and various tourist tat everywhere you go. And, yes, for tourists like me, walking through Rembrandt Square or seeing 'The Nightwatch' in the Rijksmuseum are all essential parts of the overall experience. Whilst I had planned to visit Rembrandt House I wasn't expecting to be particularly overwhelmed or impressed by his work any more than I am of any other artists from the 1600's. It is sometimes good to be wrong! His etchings (pictured above) are exquisite. The attention to detail, variety of mark making, tonal qualities and drawing ability in general are amazing. Needless to say I was impressed, but inspired too and I only realised in the few days since I've been back home just how much looking at these etchings influenced my own drawing style. There has been a notable and I believe, significant shift, in my drawing style in the last few days that has definitely improved my mark-making and intensity to my drawings. I definitely put this change down to spending a great deal of time looking at Rembrandt's etchings and more excitingly, for me, this is the first instance in a long time, that I have been genuinely inspired by looking at another artist's work where it has had a knock-on affect to my own. Watch this space for future posts on how the 'drawing-a-day' project 2014 is progressing. 

4.) 'Charlene' -Robert Rauschenberg
In the Stedelijk Museum (imagine the Dutch version of our Tate Modern) lies this fantastic combine painting by American artist, Robert Rauschenberg. At 89 x 112 inches big its hard to miss! Apart from being among the very first of his combine paintings (paintings that literally combine collage, objects, paint, lights and variety of surfaces) it is also one of my personal favourites, largely this is due to the inclusion of (one of my all time favourite objects of obsession to paint/draw) an umbrella in the top right corner. Perhaps in the same way that the different sections of the road, lights, cables came together in the image of the road in figure 1, this painting achieves, in its divided boxed sections of collage, painting, a mirror, a light, a folded shirt, a similar affect.

5.) Tuschinski Theatre
Definitely one, if not the most exciting cinema of all time, the Tuschinski Theatre. Whilst I would strongly recommend seeing a film here (most of them are in English with Dutch subtitles) it is worth visiting even to see the front of the building and inside foyer (pictured). Described more accurately by friends, as 'an Art Deco space ship' the architecture and lighting of the Tuschinski is a theatrical marvel and should be experienced in person. I absolutely love film and cinema and the Tuschinski is how cinema's should be, something special, something theatrical, an experience and not (like so many chain cinemas in this country have become) just a big TV in a darkened room.
6.) Arman
Ok, so it's not technically an Arman, or a work by the French-born, American artist, Arman (who is nest known for his accumulations of objects in boxes/vitrines), but it is pretty much, intentionally or accidentally like his work (who knows maybe he lived here?). As with the Rauschenberg and the road surface there is something aesthetically appealing about compartmentalised sections of stuff whereby each section has a mass of different forms/surfaces/colours/groupings/textures. Wonderful stuff!

7.) Rijksmuseum Library
Tucked away in the  recently renovated Rijksmuseum is this fantastic 19th century-style reading room, library. Apparently, and I quote, "The Rijksmuseum Research Library is one of the main art libraries in the world. Catalogues of auctions and exhibitions, trade and collection catalogues, as well as books, periodicals and annual reports relating to the museum collections have been collected without interruption since 1885." I wasn't expecting to see this (and probably you're average viewer to the Rijksmuseum is in the same position) and although I didn't look at any of the books on this occasion (where would I start?) I found it to be an incredible looking place.

8.) 'The Milkmaid' -Vermeer
At last! After seeing more parodies of this painting (there was a Delia Smith version...if I recall...)than even reproductions, it was good to finally see the real thing! In some ways this painting by Vermeer is like the Dutch Mona Lisa, its fame known so widely  that when you're actually met with the real thing in person, it doesn't feel quite real at all. It is also smaller (like the Mona Lisa) than what I imagined it to be. Which begs the question, does fame, reproductions of images and photos have a way of making things, people, places physically seem bigger than they are? That could be quite interesting. Although back to the point, 'The Milkmaid' I think can only be most accurately described as jewel-like, its small and precious, bright and glistening (the highlights where the light hits in the painting/the sharpness of the central figure against the background/the whiteness of the milk being poured) . And again, like a rare jewel, it is perfectly formed with care and attention to detail that appears quite natural and effortless when in reality it is a great deal of process is involved. Ironic too, when you consider the connotations of my analogy to jewels when the scene it is depicting the opposite to wealth in the statutory or money sense of the word which is all the more poignant that it is painted with such reverence. The vibrancy of the colour in this painting being particularly eye-opening to what I had previously pictured. Seeing this work along with a selection of Vermeer's in the Rijksmuseum was really significant in changing my preconceptions of his work. 

9.) Flower Market
Where Munt-plein meets Vijzelstr you'll find Singel street, home to one of Amsterdam's many flower markets. Apart from selling tulips, tulips and more tulips it also sells a variety of dried flowers (pictured above), plants, cheeses and assorted touristy goods.

10.) 'Hard Saw II' -Claes Oldenburg
You are reading, 'A Spanner in the Workz' and yes that is a giant saw! All manner of things tool-related just won't go-away anytime soon (and I wouldn't want it to) so how could I fail to be excited by the presence of seeing Oldenburg's giant saw in person at the Stedlijk. I actually never knew Oldenburg made a giant saw being familiar with just about every other giant, hard and soft objects the artist made throughout his career (i.e. toilets, blenders, hamburgers, spoons) and now wishing I had known about this piece whilst doing my degree! In true American Pop-Art style, its big and bold and almost a one-liner if you don't start going into detail of how turning a saw into a giant sculptural work questions the boundaries between a saw as an art object or a functional object (or indeed what does 'functional' mean in relation to use), but then that was always why I was interested in Oldenburg. His work is fun and seemingly straight-forward, allowing the viewer to decide whether to leave it at face-value or whether to pursue interpreting it further. I'll probably find myself somewhere in between the two!

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