Magazine article Artforum International

Ger Van Elk

Magazine article Artforum International

Ger Van Elk

Article excerpt

VAN ABBEMUSEUM, EINDHOVEN/BOIJMANS VAN BEUNINGEN, ROTTER DAM

Ger van Elk is a well-traveled Dutch artist who has often worked on and at the intersections of object and (photographic) image, emerging, like his countrymen Jan Dibbets, Stanley Brouwn, and Bas Jan Ader, from a Conceptual art context. Though the early and mid-'60s, when the Dutch artist had already begun to divide his home between Amsterdam and LA (settling, finally, in Holland in 1991), his work was marked by the transatlantic influences of Fluxus and Pop. By the end of the decade, he entered the orbit of Conceptualism at a number of key points. He established a long-term relation with the Amsterdam gallery art & project; took part in the ludic 1968 "Rassegna d'Arti Figurative 3: Arte Povera + Azioni Povere" in Amalfi; and in 1969 participated in the concurrent avant-garde surveys "Op losse schroeven/situaties en cryptostructuren," at the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, and the landmark "When Attitudes Become Form: Works-Concepts-Processes-Situations-Information," which traveled from Bern to Krefeld to London. In 1972,, van Elk was one of seventy-five participants-running from Acconci, Ader, and Baldessari to Warhol, Wegman, and Weiner--in the Dusseldorf-staged "Prospekt 71/Projektion," dedicated to slide projection, video, photo-text, and film. Since then, he has appeared in numerous solo and group exhibitions throughout Europe and the US.

This itinerary is intended less as a sketch of an artist's origins, pedigree, and significance than as something of the historical and material force field that undergirded two successive van Elk shows recently on view at the Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum in Eindhoven. The first, "The Horizon, a Mental Perspective," was organized around the theme of the landscape and consisted mainly of photo-assemblages from the late '60s through the late '90s, with a focus on the more recent work. (At the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, the artist himself installed a concurrent exhibition of Dutch landscape painting.) The second, "The Cadillac and the Nun," was dedicated to slide-, film-, and video-based pieces dating mostly from 1969 though 1972.

In 1969, Seth Siegelaub characterized the "general feeling" of the "Attitudes" show as one of "nonchalance," which might serve as well to describe much of what was on view in "Cadillac" (the title, referring to something van Elk remembered seeing thirty-five-odd years ago in LA, is apparently meant to stand for the conflicted impact of the US on the artist). Many of the pieces presented comic narrations of ostensibly meaningless efforts. On one wall was projected The Flattening of the Brooke's Surface, a looped film from 1972 in which van Elk himself, folded into a tiny rubber dinghy, glides in and out of a static shot of a narrow canal, hopelessly and laconically running a trowel over the ripples made by the boat's movement. On the facing wall a film "record" of two cross-Atlantic sea journeys, east and west, in 1971, again starring van Elk, aimed at finding the proper wind conditions--one free of dust--in which to paint a small wooden block: What we see are the main scenes, the artist moving loaded brush o ver block, struggling to maintain his balance.

The two films are deadpan performances, free of manifest angst or irony, narrating the "work" of art--both process and product--as a series of small, personal, repetitive gestures, the results thwarted by or incommensurate with the effort. But what and where is "the work"? The action in the film? The filmed record? Both? The very notion of a "record" confers a certain neutrality and dignity, perhaps a framing or metadiscursive authority, on its particular "work." Or does the recording of absurd gestures--their materialization--simply repeat this absurdity? The sea film is called La Piece, and to complicate the problem, this names as well a small, whitepainted block, dated 1971 and exhibited at the "Cadillac" show, enthroned on a red cushion and a beveled-edged, polished wood platform. …

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