Friday, June 26, 2009

Dutch Seen: New York Rediscovered @MCNY

JTF (just the facts): A total of 102 images, made by 13 different photographers, hung in the first floor entry and a large gallery space, divided into two halves. Except for the images by Rineke Dijkstra, all of the works were taken between 2004 and 2009, many made expressly for this exhibit. (Installation shots at right.)

The following photographers have been included in the show, with the number of works displayed in parentheses:

Morad Bouchakour (33)
Misha de Ridder (5)
Wijnanda Deroo (10)
Rineke Dijkstra (3)
Charlotte Dumas (6)
Hendrik Kerstens (5)
Arno Nollen (1)
Erwin Olaf (6)
Jaap Scheeren (6)
Danielle van Ark (6)
Inez van Lamsweerde & Vinoodh Matadin (14)
Hellen van Meene (7)

Comments/Context: When I think about what it might mean to be Dutch in the 21st century, what I come back to time and again is the idea of tolerance. While it is certainly dangerous to generalize about an entire nation and culture, virtually all the Dutch people we know have worldly attitudes of easy going acceptance: of different ways of life, of different ethnic and racial groups, and of glorious eccentricities and quirks in people of all kinds.

This exhibit at the MCNY was organized to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the Dutch in New York. Curated by Kathy Ryan of The New York Times Magazine, in conjunction with FOAM, the show consists of the work of a variety of celebrated Dutch contemporary photographers, each of whom was asked to take pictures of today's New York. Given the show's title (Dutch Seen), the central question raised by the exhibit is obvious: what do these Dutch artists see when they look at this city? While the work that was produced for the show is widely diverse, what I think they have seen on the whole is actually a reflection of themselves and their attitudes.

Many of the bodies of work on display focus on the diversity of New York, highlighting the positive qualities of a multi-ethnic world of individuals, each of whom deserves special attention. Both Arno Nollen and Morad Bouchakour have contributed portraits: Nollen favors a consistent mug shot composition, while Bouchakour uses a variety of framing techniques, but in both cases, New York is seen as a kaleidoscope of races and peoples. Hellen van Meene and Rineke Dijkstra also use portraits to capture the essence of New York, but their images dive much deeper into the unique qualities of the individuals portrayed, and use some sense of place (city streets and Coney Island beaches respectively) as a background for their intimate pictures. Erwin Olaf has constructed an elaborate staged environment depicting a turn of the century well to do American black family, making strangely dark and luminous images of shining people and fancy furnishings, asking mysterious questions about race and history in the process. And Wijnanda Deroo has expanded her view of quiet interiors to include a variety of restaurants and eating places in and around New York, from Tavern on the Green to Papaya King, with a heavy mix of down and dirty ethnic joints in between.

Several of the other photographers can be grouped together based on an affinity for the idiosyncracies of the city. Danielle van Ark's images chronicle the strange behaviours found at art openings. Inez van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin focus on the stars of the city, with portraits of celebrities and famous people who add electricity to the mix. Dogs get special attention in Charlotte Dumas' portraits, and Jaap Scheeren's works capture the endearing zaniness of city life, with a stuffed beaver, fur coats, and a plastic fish all making appearances in his staged scenes.

The two outliers in the show are the works by Misha de Ridder and Hendrik Kerstens, but in some sense, they too bring "Dutchness" to their imagery. De Ridder is the only photographer who made landscapes for this show, capturing the wild, scraggly scrub brush and uninviting wetlands that likely awaited the Dutch settlers as they ventured ashore. Kerstens has made huge portraits of his daughter Paula (of perfect ivory skin), drawing on 17th century Dutch painting styles; the connection to New York is the time warp addition of a Yankees hat or a plastic grocery bag to the otherwise saintly images.

Overall, while the concept and theme of the show comes through uniquely in each body of work, it is not altogether surprising that as a whole, the show is quite uneven. My particular favorites were the works by Kerstens, Deroo, Olaf, and Dijkstra, but others might just as well come away with a wholly different set of preferences. In any case, the exhibit is a success in accomplishing its goal: showing us how the Dutch use their own specific cultural framework to see this spectacular city.

Collector's POV: Rineke Dijkstra is by far the most recognized of the artists in this show, and her work is now routinely found in the secondary markets, her large portraits typically fetching between $10000 and $60000 apiece. The work of Erwin Olaf is likely the next most easily found at auction, most often pricing between $2000 and $12000. From there, activity in the secondary markets drops off precipitously, with only a small number of images by any of the rest of the group being sold in the past few years. Almost all of the photographers represented in this exhibit have their own websites and I've linked to a few of them below; this may be the best way to get information about gallery representation for further follow ups.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Other reviews: Conscientious (here), The Year in Pictures (here), Brian Rose (here)
  • Hendrik Kerstens artist site (here)
  • Wijnanda Deroo artist site (here)
  • Erwin Olaf artist site (here)
  • Rineke Dijkstra - Marian Goodman Gallery site (here)
Through September 13th
1220 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10029


jaap said...

it wasn't a plastic fish.. cheers, jaap

dlkcollection said...


Thanks for taking the time to check in with us. Sorry for mistaking a real koi for a plastic one. If the fish was indeed real, I think your image is still equally perplexing, though now in a different way.