This summer art wary travellers exploring Scheveningen’s esplanade will encounter Ruud Kuijer‘s Staffetta – relay runner in Italian – which operates as a series of markers on a brief stretch of the beach.
Perched on a narrow sand dune just outside museum Beelden aan Zee, this trio of non-figurative sculptures implies movement and points up aspects of the environment into which it has been placed. Strollers will, as they move past or loop round the dune where they stand, witness unexpected shifts in configuration that will cause them to rethink what it is they are seeing.
Looking at the works from this viewpoint caused me to notice the sculptures slightly larger than human scale and the intuitive manner in which the elements have been assembled. It got me contemplating the artist’s thoughts and actions: the decisions he was making as he physically maneuvered the pieces into position as well as the minor adjustments that tweaked the works into their final form. It also resulted in my responding to the inherent sense of instability that is built into the formations. Despite the medium’s strength, Kuijer has not only rested large components on smaller ones, he also created precarious angles for they tip this way and that way. It is a tension inducing feature and left me wondering if the smallest push might cause the parts to fall down.
Less immediately detectable is the passing of shapes – the transfer referred to by the title – between members of the series. This integral element involves the use of openings, either in the form of a triangle, ovoid or segment of a circle. Each sculpture contains only one, but the former contents of that opening resides in another part of the series. These feature urges viewers to parse their structures and subverts their linear arrangement. The exchange helps overcome the actual distance that separates the three units. Not only does it bring the sculptures closer together, it introduces the idea of the ring. In the mind’s eye the group forms a circle.
The series looks right at home in the desaturated light of this North Sea holiday setting and cut dramatic profiles against the changing sky. The pale tones recall the colour of silica and misty air. The work also relates to the built environment. Made of concrete, the medium complements and opposes the characteristics of the industrially produced fixtures around them. Kuijer, for example, employs elements that intimate pipes and cement blocks and then throws in a few decorative flourishes like the fragment of a striated column and seashell. The latter call attention to the nearby pavilion and the marine environment. But that’s where the congruency ends. His shapes play against the obvious regularity and repetitiveness of the vicinity’s apartment blocks, lamp posts and railings.
Inside the museum Beelden aan Zee 4 works from the museum’s collection enhances Staffetta‘s presentation. Though set on one of the outside terraces, the two groups cannot viewed in tandem. They offer proof of how his visual vocabulary continues to evolve. Zönder titel, nr. 164 1996, the oldest work in this collection, is almost twenty years old. It confirms his intuitive flair for amalgamating diverse forms into dynamic visual statements. But, as good as this sculpture is – one can’t look at it and not think of Anthony Caro – it doesn’t arouse as much interest as the other 3 reinforced concrete works.
Created within the past decade, these forms are much more closely related to the outdoor work. Moreover, they evince an aptitude for developing compositions that excite the eye. Their scale communicates with the body too. Like the exterior thematic grouping, these works employ some of the same vocabulary, but they occupy space in decidedly different ways. Kolomsculptuur II, schelp, nr. 283 2007-2008 consists of a central vertical pillar to which Kuijer has adhered a number of moulded forms. In contrast, the much more linear elements in Los, nr. 297 2009-2010 seem to barely make contact. They want to be free of each other. Then there is Venster sculptuur IV, ovaal, nr. 290 2009, which proposes an oval whose perimeter has nearly disintegrated. Her the skewed shapes offer viewers an abundance of intriguing viewpoints as they circle the work.
Finally, it’s one thing to show sculpture vis-à-vis the close-up, whether it be outdoors or in what I find to be the increasingly blasé neutrality of the white cube, and an altogether different thing when you can step back and really see the work as a constituent of a grander scene. For me, Staffetta evokes the dynamism of its surrounding with all the angles, curves, changes in elevation and maudlin constructions that environment may hold. It’s great to see how the two do or do not relate.
Kuijer’s exhibition opened in June 2014 and will end sometime during the autumn of 2015.