In & out of Amsterdam: Travels in Conceptual Art 1960-1967

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In & out of Amsterdam: travels in Conceptual Art 1960-1967

MoMA New York 19 July to 5 October

Unfortunately no T-shirts were printed to commemorate Lawrence Weiner's European Tour of 1969 (or thereabouts) but, according to the artist, showing in galleries around Europe during that period did feel something like a tour. 'It was a tour,' he insists in an interview in the catalogue of MoMA's neatly conceived new Conceptual Art show. 'It was like playing football--it went from stadium to stadium. And the interesting thing was that there was a whole system built into it. If you didn't show with Konrad Fischer, you showed with Paul Maenz.'

One of the essential stops on that tour was Amsterdam. Museums in the Netherlands were ambitious for their time, and Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum was in its heyday; in 1969 it organised a show called 'Op Losse Schroeven' (after an idiomatic Dutch expression, 'on loose screws'), which ran contemporaneously with Harald Szeemann's more famous survey 'When Attitudes Become Form' at Kunsthalle Bern, and at the time was seen as its equal. But probably the most important draw to the city was Art & Project, a gallery established by Geert van Beijeren, a librarian at the Stedelijk, and his partner, former architect Adriaan van Ravesteijn. It opened in 1968 with a show by German post-minimalist Charlotte Posenenske and the sculpture she exhibited in that show, Series D, 1967, a sequence of steel constructions resembling ventilation ducts that could be installed at whim, are included in MoMA's new show. And in subsequent years it hosted an impressive crowd of conceptual artists from throughout Europe and the US. Gilbert & George staged their first international outing as 'living sculptures' on the stairs at the Stedelijk and, for the home of van Beijeren and van Ravesteijn, they produced the last of their 'charcoal paper sculptures', The Tuileries, 1974, consisting of a large, wall-mounted drawing in addition to drawings fixed to the surfaces of chairs and a coffee table.

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Art & Project closed in 2001; van Beijeren died in 2005 and in 2007 MoMA accepted as a major gift the collection the two men had assembled, mostly of work by artists they showed at the gallery. MoMA's 'In & Out of Amsterdam' is a nod of thanks for that collection. It focuses on ten artists who were closely associated with the gallery: Bas Jan Ader, Stanley Brouwn, Hanne Darboven, Jan Dibbets, Ger van Elk, Gilbert & George, Sol LeWitt, Allen Ruppersberg, Posenenske and Weiner. The binding concept of the show--Amsterdam's place in Conceptual Art--is fragile: it may be true that Weiner liked Amsterdam so much that he settled there on a houseboat in 1970 (he has shuttled back and forth between New York and Amsterdam ever since), but did the city decisively shape the careers of so many artists? At times, some of the show's theses appear flimsy, yet there always seems to be another which is seductive enough at least to warrant consideration. For instance, the idea that the artists' perpetual 'touring' encouraged thought about the nature of travel, mapping, communication and intellectual exchange. It might also be true that the city's thriving art scene brought about an interesting traffic between Los Angeles and the Netherlands, one that cut out the Pop-dominated scene of New York and influenced the work of artists like Ader, Ruppersberg and van Elk. A good catalogue essay by Christian Rattemeyer explores the impact of Italian artist Piero Gilardi on the Stedelijk's 'Op Losse Schroeven'--though it isn't clear how much his interesting Arte Povera-influenced notion of 'primary energy' (a counterpoint to the then current buzz-phrase 'primary structures') influenced the Dutch scene. …