Nothing really prepared me for my visit to Museum Beelden aan Zee, a sculpture museum constructed inside sand dunes in the Dutch coastal resort community of Scheveningen. The modest entrance, which resides on a narrow side street just off the seaside promenade, deposits visitors in a markedly airy and light filled space. And then, to top it off, its spaces were brimming with an outstanding selection of contemporary Flemish sculpture. Curated by Stef van Bellingen, Vormidable offered a potent glimpse of just how dynamic, intriguing and diverse this Belgian region’s sculptors can be.
In addition to the museum presentation, select works were exhibited at several satellite locations. Organised into seven themes: architecture, science fiction, performance, 2- and 3-dimensional space, earthly matters, the human condition and models for large sculptures – the distinctions provided a logic to the survey that was not always immediately obvious to the viewer.
In the museum large text filled banners clarified these categories, but the lack of physical barriers made it difficult to tell where one category ended and the next one started. Despite the mild confusion the situation proved fortuitous, for the arrangement also promoted the flow of ideas. The porous boundaries (perhaps they were deliberate) enabled me to witness coincidences in terms of materials, processes and themes that bridged the assigned rubrics and presented alternative ways of seeing the exhibition. This added a real sense of depth to the overall experience.
The most prominent of these sub-themes centred on the human form, a focus that branches in many directions. Examples include Eve de Leener‘s Solid Gold (2009), which, in part, treats the human body as a vessel. Stepping up to this primarily black form reveals unexpected contents nestled in the hollows on its surface. In contrast Nick Ervinck’s AGRIEBORZ (2009-2011) focuses one aspect of the body’s internal structure. His fascinating 3D print of a head not only distorts its workings, but also depicts it as an elaborately dense and free-standing arterial network.
Caroline Coolen‘s fragmented figures seem to defy interpretation. Her captivating compositions remain ambiguous, They present themselves as strange fleeting glimpses or materialisations of absurd visions deriving from the imagination or the land dreams.
I found Anton Cotteleer’s Een surrogaatdame zonder lach – A surrogate lady without laughter (2013), to be a more disturbing work. This part feline/part human creature recalls Egyptian deities and proposes a nightmarish scenario. Equally ghastly are Wim Delvoye’s Windroos (1992) and his scale model Rose des Vents (1992-2006). Telescopes protrude from the mouth and anus of figures that are temporarily blinded; their hands cover their eyes. The men appear strangely complicit in the processes of blind consumption and the production of waste.
Samples of Sofie Müller’s practice reveal that she can produce works that are hauntingly eerie or strikingly poetic. Exemplifying the former is HM02MG (2014). Composed of various kinds of laboratory implements and polyurethane heads, this composition clearly refers to science’s dark side. On the other hand, the version of Jesse installed along Lange Voorhout (one of The Hague’s oldest streets) depicts a boy curiously looking back at the route he has just walked, only to discover that flowering begonias have replaced all of his footprints.
Some artists are preoccupied with a fascination of the appearance and texture of skin. Take, for example, Luk Van Soom’s Een kosmisch verlangen – A cosmic longing (2005), in which the weightlifter’s rippling leg and butt muscles mimic the swirls of cascading water. Other odd shifts in appearance can be seen in the images documenting Lawrence Malstaf’s performance Shrink (1995). Seeing his vacuum-packed body next to the actual oversize bag in which it was packed did prove disturbing.
Creepier still was a second Cotteleer work, his Covered Twins (2010). The bodies of this pair of green conjoined figures bare the same colour and texture as the material draped over their heads and the upper zones of the torsos. The manner in which it frays along the edges and peels off their lower limbs is unsettling.
Public monuments form an alternative motif. Most notably Leon Vranken’s Raised Elevation (2013) contradicts the purpose of the traditional stone marker. Wooden slats inserted between all of its elements function as separators and carrying handles, thus thwarting both its mass and sense of permanence. Alternatives to this kind of memorial come in the form of Ervink’s remarkable structures that emulate the look of gooey polymer substances that have spontaneously hardened in unexpected configurations. Both NIEBLOY (2009), set outside the Crowne Plaza Hotel, and LUIZAERC (2012-2015), at Lange Voorhout, propose eye-catching sci-fi alternatives for this type of public art.
Then, contradicting LUIZAERC’s sleek and curvy surfaces is Peter Rogiers’ Silver Cakespoons (2012). The razor-like aluminum shards used to create this gleaming metal tree convey a threateningly jagged air that wards off physical contact.
Finally, the presence of machines (typically imaginary or non-funtioning in nature) can also not be overlooked. Peter De Cupere, who likes to combine smells with the visual aspects of his work, contributes Earth Car (2003-2004), in which an old car has been converted into an oversize planter. Panamarenko’s steampunk aesthetic was represented by Eendebek – Kleine Magnusvlieger (2002) and Donnariet (2003), two small flying machines that seemed to be imbued with magical qualities.
In Battery (2002) Johan Tahon grafts a figure to the top of a giant dry cell battery. This curious human/machine hybrid potentially represents some kind of primitive experiment, an exemplar of failed technology the residue of which is now subject to ongoing decay. Body and machine also meet in Wim Delvoye’s 8 maquettes Cloaca (2008), a set of incredibly beautiful model works. Their visual appeal makes it easy to overlook the fact that these machines actually mimic the digestive process.
Vormidable – Contemporary Flemish Sculpture was presented at Museum Beelden aan Zee / 20th May – 25th October, 2015 and at Lange Voorhout and other satellite locations, 20th May – 30th August, 2015.
Featured image: Cotteleer and Ervinck, installation view courtesy Museum Beelden aan Zee ©Wim de Boer