Impresario of Art Making Her Mark ; Beatrix Ruf Showcases Her Vision for Stedelijk with Genzken Exhibition

By Siegal, Nina | International New York Times, December 3, 2015 | Go to article overview

Impresario of Art Making Her Mark ; Beatrix Ruf Showcases Her Vision for Stedelijk with Genzken Exhibition


Siegal, Nina, International New York Times


With the Genzken exhibition, Beatrix Ruf, the museum's director, showcases her vision for the Stedelijk, which is known for its tradition of experimentation.

In a painting of two lacquered floor lamps against a gray background, Beatrix Ruf, the director of the Stedelijk Museum of modern and contemporary art here, sees the entirety of Western art history.

"This contains everything from Rembrandt to Warhol and beyond," Ms. Ruf said about the 1994 work, "Zwei Lampen," by the provocative German artist Isa Genzken, the subject of a new retrospective at the museum. Ms. Ruf was obviously delighted at seeing the painting finally on the wall, as it was the very first work she acquired for the Stedelijk, just two days after taking over the helm on Nov. 1 of last year.

"It combines art and design, and of course a highly skilled ability of transforming painting into a different reality," Ms. Ruf said. "She uses all these different techniques to get to this Renaissance idea of light that depicts itself."

Ms. Ruf, 55, has earned a reputation as a power curator and a tastemaker, most recently as the director of the Kunsthalle Zurich, a position she held for 13 years and where she jump-started the careers of a number of internationally known artists.

In March, W. Magazine wrote that she has "a nose for the next big thing," and a headline in the Observer newspaper in London in September said that "Ruf is on Fire." Art Review magazine has listed her as one of the 100 most powerful people in the art world since 2009. Last month, she flew to New York to receive the Agnes Gund award -- or "Aggie" -- from the Independent Curators International for her contributions to the art world.

"Zwei Lampen" is one of 287 works in the Stedelijk's 40-year survey "Isa Genzken: Mach Dich Hubsch!" (loosely translated as "Make Yourself Beautiful"), which opened to the public on Sunday and runs through March 6.

The painting is relatively sedate compared to much of Ms. Genzken's oeuvre, here organized not chronologically but thematically across 18 gallery spaces on the museum's second floor. She favors glitzy design objects in chaotic sculptural compositions, neon-tinged assemblages made of seemingly random consumer detritus (like masked mannequins and smashed bookcases), and reflective surfaces that force viewers to repeatedly encounter themselves.

"Isa is an artist who is prepared to push borders and to venture into new ground, and that's something that Beatrix also likes to do," said Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen, a co-curator of the Genzken exhibition, as he monitored the installation of Ms. Genzken's series of faux busts of Nefertiti wearing reflective sunglasses.

Choosing to mount a Genzken exhibition of such depth as one of her first big showcases reflects the kind of edginess that Ms. Ruf wants to bring to the Stedelijk, a museum known for its tradition of experimentation.

The Stedelijk has long been the Netherlands' leading museum of modern and contemporary art and design, but it has had some difficulty finding its footing in the last few years. A nine-year, 127 million euro, or $163 million, renovation suffered repeated setbacks and cost overruns, and became a point of mounting frustration within the local arts community.

Two "Temporary Stedelijk" exhibitions were mounted at the museum during the work, but it remained largely out of the public eye. The renovated and expanded building reopened in 2012 under the former director Ann Goldstein, but it struggled to assert its identity on the city's Museumplein, home to two more-prominent institutions, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, which had just undergone renovations of their own.

The rebooted Stedelijk is seeking to be an international tourist draw, with a collection that includes Picasso, Matisse, Malevich and Mondrian. At the same time, it wants to reestablish itself as a showcase for local artists, who have often used it as a stage for acts of radical experimentation. …

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