Passing the baton

Teacher-student relationships are special, particularly amongst artists. I feel much generosity and warmth there, older artists often view the work of their younger colleagues empathically – it is also the case in reverse. For the work to be seen positively its form does not need to have the same pattern as the mentor’s. On the contrary: in the relationship there is space for the largest possible differences both in form and contents. Something else counts: recognition of the artistic calling in its essence, a primal instinct.

In my experience one artist will step into the breach for another if instinct tells him or her: in this person, in this work I sense the necessity, the drive and the soul of an artist. Sigurdur Gudmundsson once spoke with me about Bjarne Melgaard. Without saying it in so many words, Gudmondsson was very taken with Melgaard, and I think that was because with his expansive paintings and drawings the younger artist is claiming territory for his artistic world in such a direct and physical manner. Gudmundsson recognised the primary urge of an artist for space.

In 2006-2007 a series of six exhibitions took place under the title The Artists’ Artists. On the recommendation of six senior artists the artists’ initiative outLINE presented the work of six young talents in as many solo shows. One by one the six solo exhibitions told their own visual story.

Central to Dorcas Müller’s presentation [proposed by Uwe Laysiepen] was the scientific eye, the way in which this looks at the human body and arrives at its analysis and synthesis. Laura Medler’s work [proposed by John Hilliard] was about elementary human movement and the recording of it via the photo camera. Work that relates to the tradition of Muybridge: his wonder at movement and the reproduction of its course. Naro Snackey [proposed by Roy Villevoye] showed plastic collages that appeared to withdraw from the space, they looked like 3d prints in negative, afterimages of real life and its energy and impact.

Central to Claudia Sola’s presentation [proposed by Marijke van Warmerdam] was a video installation with constantly changing high-speed images that paradoxically enough created a meditative effect. Yvonne Grootenboer [proposed by Katharina Grosse] made a fairytale-like painting in situ that through its colour and light emphasized the lyrical quality of outLINE’s chapel-like space. Finally Daya Cahen [proposed by Paul Kooiker] showed work based on her meeting with the grandson of Josef Stalin and the questions that this brings up about history and how you are part of it (or not).

In the background of these solo exhibitions the voice of a renowned senior artist echoed. Six experienced artists had been invited to propose exhibitors by curator Christine van den Bergh. The senior artists all have a practice where parallel to their own work, the transfer of knowledge and experience to younger artists is important. Often they had got to know them while a mentor/teacher in (post graduate) art education institutions and built up a real bond with them over a period of years. The senior artists took the nominations seriously. Their distinct sense of responsibility was to be found in outLINE’s press releases. A mentor presents his or her protégé to the art world... That protocol is reminiscent of books and films over debutants and their guardians in the 19th century, at a ball or in an artistic salon...

What I found good in this series of exhibitions was that people recognised the fact that an exhibition can also be a ritual, pure moment when a budding artist openly shows what he/she stands for, and declares him or herself ready to undergo the critical judgement of the world.

Due in part to the earnestness surrounding the nomination a viewer could get the impression that certain characteristics, qualities that you would sooner attribute to work of older artists, leapt over onto work of the younger colleagues. To begin with the debutants’ work did gain more allure through association and occasionally something of the gravitas that adheres to the work of more mature artists. On the other hand it is true that artists at the beginning of their careers sometimes make heavily charged work. Work in which the viewer can see how a lack of experience is compensated by an eagerness for it!

Artists wrote sharply focused texts on their colleagues. The recognition that intelligence is required in the artist’s creativity, something that supersedes thinking, you can find in a text by Marijke van Warmerdam. Writing on Claudia Sola she says: ‘To what extent can you give form to the chaos of existence in your work without cancelling that very chaos by giving it form? That is the question that keeps coming back in the video work of Claudia Sola. She is looking again and again for new ways to shed a universal light over the stimuli you undergo during the whole day. One time she emerges with work of a vehemently political character and another time with a personal document. Just as we are: egos in a social constellation. How both the world and herself revolve around each other, so appeals to me in her work.’

Often young and old stand as opposites against each other or are placed on opposing sides. But life and art are more complex, opposites mingle, overtake each other or surprisingly come together. At the end of their careers some artists make light, even frivolous work, work that you might expect from a younger artist. Others remain young; they constantly rejuvenate with the passing of time as it were, making new beginnings in their work time and again.

We are now waiting for an exhibition or series of exhibitions where young artists propose older colleagues and shed new light on their work. Such an initiative would give new cachet to the ties between artists of different generations. A blood tie that unfortunately is not often seen in exhibitions [an exception is the recent show in the Serpentine Gallery of Hreinn Fridfinnsson, on the nomination of Olafur Eliason]. After all the art world, and indeed the world in general, is focused on the quest for young, younger, youngest. However there is an African saying that sees this differently: a human being comes into the world old and with baggage – see the wrinkles on the head of a new-born - but in fact that same human becomes young and light with onset of the years, just as long until it is time to go again.

Mark Kremer

‘The artists’ artists’ is divided into six episodes. Each episode is curated by one of six established artists [Uwe Laysiepen, John Hilliard, Roy Villevoye, Marijke van Warmerdam, Katharina Grosse and Paul Kooiker] who act as guestcurators. Each artist introduces a younger artist.
Concept and organisation Christine van den Bergh