Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Uncategorized April 25th, 2017

I’d like to be a poet

By Laure van den Hout

Words in mirror image.

The right word in the wrong place

 And the wrong word
in the right place.

Robot words.

Words to stitch onto dream togas.

Hans Arp, Words (fragment), 1961
Translation: Tony Langham & Plym Peters

From: Hans Arp, Gesammelte Gedichte: Gedichte 1957-1966

“Of course”, I heard one visitor say, “It looks so real. That’s because of those little fingers. Did you see them? They all move so elegantly, quite separately from each other, as though they’re playing the piano in the air.” Of course, I’m also struck by her supple joints, shiny white leather boots, neatly combed hair, scantily clad body and bird mask. Of course, Female Figure is primarily a seductive, robotic female figure. And yet it’s something else that attracts my attention: her language and her speech, and in particular that one sentence: I’d like to be a poet.

The reason that the words “I’d like to be a poet” are striking is because they deviate from the rest of Female Figure’s sentences. In fact her use of language – apart from a number of pop songs which can be heard as a playback – consists predominantly of statements. She says things like: “I’m gay” and “This is my house”. Or she recites a succession of phrases so that it seems as though she’s talking to herself or to her creator: “Say feeling love / Just say feeling love / Okay / Feeling love / Okay now what should I tell them / Tell them / Touch is love / Say touch is love / Touch is love / Touch is love / Now close your eyes / Now close your eyes / Now close your eyes / Close your eyes / Close your eyes.”

Instead of being something, the sentence “I’d like to be a poet” expresses a desire to become something.  Moreover, Female Figure wants to become something very specific. A poet. A real poet. A creator rather than a performer, a subject rather than an object. If you analyze the sentence, both the phrase “I’d like to be” and the phrase “a poet” reveals painful human emotions, viz: desire and significance.  A desire for significance. In this context it’s interesting to note that the etymology of the word poetry goes back to the Greek word poiesis, which means to make or create. Giving something a meaning (also) entails allowing something to become something different. It involves stretching a context or even creating a context.

Reading poetry means looking for meaning, again and again. Poetry disrupts our normal relationship to language; its basic motivation is to confuse our experience and our understanding of language. It kneads our brain and messes with the linguistic framework that we use to understand the world and with which we can translate this understanding and pass it on to others. It brings reality closer by expressing it, and at the same time it emphasizes the yawning gap between words and reality precisely by expressing it. In poetry we are aware that the words we use in our daily lives suddenly mean more and can communicate something different.

In his poem Worte, Hans Arp (1886 -1966) – artist, writer, poet and one of the pioneers of Dada – connects things that we may know, such as walks, mountains and flowers, to the word “words”. Arp comes up with all sorts of combinations: “words on walks”, “words from the mouth to the abyss”, “word to fish for in troubled waters”, “words from floating mountains/ or if you think this is pretentious / words from cloud mountains”. Arp seems to want to examine the relationship between the idea of “words” and words which express things (which in a sense reflects something from reality).

No matter how many words Arp comes up with, and no matter how he characterizes them, they constantly slip away. It’s like the sky or a meadow in an impressionist painting: blue brushstrokes or white touches which we then interpret as the sky, blobs of brownish white in the grass which can also suddenly turn into a herd of cows lying in the meadow. It requires us to interpret them and constantly throws us in at the deep end. There’s not just one answer, and you continue to see both sky and brushstrokes, both cows and thick blobs of paint.  Our own meaning, our own interpretation. The responsibility of looking.  This is also shown by Arp’s “dreaming flake world”, “superdoll words”, “flower words of superdoll flowers”, “words with ancient trains coughed up by their centrifugal salad shaker”, “balmy words” and “brook words”. They take you back to your own observation, to your own reading of the word. In the words of the poet Martinus Nijhoff (1894-1953): “Just read it, it doesn’t say what it says.” (Just look, you don’t see what you see.)

Before I go any further I’d like to explain that it’s not my intention to pronounce on what poetry can do. What fascinates me is an artist who creates a robot sculpture and makes her say that she would like to be a poet. In this context I’d like to reflect on the fact that although her movements make her look real, it’s actually the words ‘I’d like to be a poet’ that make her human.

When reading poetry becomes a search for meaning, purification, understanding, despair, an absence of belief, confusion and wonder, it’s an experience which makes you feel profoundly human. She shows something that’s not yet available on demand: the ambiguity of a creation. Wolfson’s animatronics are not simply unambiguous either. This is clear from the remarks of the visitor who said that she looked so real because of the way in which she moved her “fingers”. By “real” he appears to mean physically real, or perhaps even human. But it is a robot.

In an ARTtube film which shows in particular the work Colored Sculpture that was exhibited during MANIC / LOVE, the first part of his exhibition in the Stedelijk, Wolfson remarks about animatronics: “There is something about movement and there is something about gravity that makes me, and what I also believe the viewer, to become present in their own body. That you actually have a kind of physical reaction to these things.”

This awareness of your own physicality also plays an important role in Female Figure. I recognize what the visitor describes: seeing the precise movement of her fingers, it corresponds with the feeling of moving my own fingers in the same way. Her other movements have the same effect. I can feel the swaying of her hips in my own body.

Even though Female Figure has hinges where we have shoulders, and even though she’s connected to a mirror with a rod, the movements she makes are credible. This physicality evokes human associations.

You could extend the awareness of your own physicality to a consciousness of your own humanity, of being a human being. In this respect the facts that the animatronics talk – i.e., their language and speech – also has vital significance. Just as the movements make you aware of your body, the words (language) make you aware of your mind.

Language emphasizes the human desire for meaning. By naming something it becomes real, while it did not exist in that way before.  For example, Female Figure becomes gay with three simple words. The space she occupies becomes her house with four simple words. With language we can profile ourselves, create a world for ourselves. Speaking is creating, seeing. However, when someone says only (“I am”, “This is”) and does not express a desire (“I’d like to be”), he or she does reveal a mental world but seems less human. Wolfson clearly understood this and had Female Figure desire something. The nature of her desire is crucial in this respect. Wolfson did not choose for Female Figure to express an instinctive, and therefore animal desire such as lust, which would have been quite logical in view of her sexy dance moves and her outfit. Instead Wolfson gave her the desire to create something, and even had her specify this: “I’d like to be a poet”. This multiplicity of meanings, for a robot to desire to become something, and actually to be able to create something itself which can be understood by others – in other words, which urges others to become creative by attributing meaning to it – is what makes this statement fascinating and Female Figure human.




Uncategorized Uncategorized April 20th, 2017

“My mother is dead. My father is dead. I’m gay. I’d like to be a poet. This is my house.”

By Michelle Schulte

Thus begins Female figure by Jordan Wolfson, just before “Applause” by Lady Gaga starts playing. According to Wolfson, the robotic figure is a sexual object and the work addresses “the violence of objectification”. Without being aware of this, the viewer can already feel it when standing in the gallery with the robot.

She is a blonde woman dressed as a hypersexualized pop star: she wears a semitransparent skirt through which her underwear is visible, thigh-high boots, and long gloves. She is completely in white, the color of virginity. Her body appears dirty, but the reason for this is unknown. Her face is concealed by a mask of a witch’s face — this symbolizes infertility, according to Wolfson, while the movements her body makes simply scream fertility. Because her face is hidden, it feels as if the mask makes her more of an object rather than a person.

She is attached to a pole — as if it forces her to keep dancing. Even when no music is playing and she addresses the audience, she continues to dance. From behind the mask, her eyes constantly follow the crowd in the room, unnerving the viewer. She is fixed in place, and her audience cannot leave. She is continuously “performing” for the public. And, as a spectator, the viewer can do nothing. Read More »


Uncategorized March 27th, 2017

Entertainment as medium: The ludic quality of Jordan Wolfson’s robotic sculptures

By Megan Mullarky

To enter a sculptural installation of Jordan Wolfson is comparable to accepting a dare. Subjecting oneself to the gaze of a robotic figure, one which grotesquely references human features and movements and yet at the same time makes actually being human seem ludicrous, the visitors must subject themselves to the formidable ridicule of the robot. The Howdy Doody/Huckleberry Finn robot doll in the first part of the two-segment exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum, entitled Colored Sculpture, is dragged through the air by thick, metal chains from which his bodily shell is repeatedly dropped violently to the floor. With abnormally large, illuminated blue eyes mechanized by motion-tracking software, he is able to silently gaze directly in the face of viewers and perceive their expressions while only seconds later flopping bizarrely to the ground like a sadistic, overgrown puppet. In contrast, Female Figure is relatively stationary, a white-clad robotic female dancer who is in this case attached to the mirror via a moderately short, un-extendable pole. Yet as the music starts and her gaze begins to follow the visitors to her cavernous, white cube enclosure, it becomes clear that to be in her presence is a far from calm experience. This time, unlike Colored Sculpture, her position shifts only slightly, and as a result the direction of her gaze is not betrayed by her body language. Instead, it is only her eyes, partially hidden behind her green mask, which flit from face to face, suddenly catching the eye of an unsuspecting viewer.

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Uncategorized March 8th, 2017

Everything to Lose but our Chains

Colored Sculpture and Female Figure conjure the wreckage of past, present, and future. Both are time machines: this boy entangled in chains, smashing to the ground, yet with a will, an energy that seems self-motivated; this girl, with her super-smooth subtly spasming limbs and her eyes behind the mask, are congealed histories. On the body of each surfaces from the past the half-whispered, half-heard, mutated and mutilated legacy of Romanticism. Romanticism’s puppets, its beautiful feminine automata, philosophies of will and direction, terror at mechanization and delight in the uncanny, its fascination with the soulless and the spirited, with artifice and authenticity, surface and depth, subject and object, grace and gravity, its recognition of ambivalence, of opposites charging each other in a force field – all this plays here in these hard bodies that speak of softness.

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Essay Essay March 8th, 2017

Everything to Lose but our Chains

Colored Sculpture and Female Figure conjure the wreckage of past, present, and future. Both are time machines: this boy entangled in chains, smashing to the ground, yet with a will, an energy that seems self-motivated; this girl, with her super-smooth subtly spasming limbs and her eyes behind the mask, are congealed histories. On the body of each surfaces from the past the half-whispered, half-heard, mutated and mutilated legacy of Romanticism. Romanticism’s puppets, its beautiful feminine automata, philosophies of will and direction, terror at mechanization and delight in the uncanny, its fascination with the soulless and the spirited, with artifice and authenticity, surface and depth, subject and object, grace and gravity, its recognition of ambivalence, of opposites charging each other in a force field – all this plays here in these hard bodies that speak of softness.

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Future SMBA June 21st, 2016

Openingsspeech Beatrix Ruf – SMBA & Beyond: Public Kick-Off

foto Ernst van DeursenWelcome, everyone, to the Stedelijk Museum. Today is an important day, because today we kick-off the research needed for the repositioning of SMBA, the Stedelijk’s satellite research institute. Although I understand Dutch, I would like to proceed in English, because this is a topic I’d like to go over carefully.  Following our discussion, feel free to speak in either Dutch or English.

I do still not know or have seen everything – as you can imagine – it has been intense inside and outside the Stedelijk in the last year: but I am very exited to be here and exited about the cultural landscape of this city and country.
Amsterdam impresses by the richness of its own cultural complexity and diversity, and the many institutions bringing artists and curators to town at the edge of their beginnings,
I am thinking of Rijksacademie, deAteliers, Sandberg, de Appel and spaces like W139, Pakt, FramerFramed, Kunstverein and many more – many having survived or are surviving shaky times and having adopted to new conditions of the cultural landscape and the “post welfare” conditions we are all working in.

With the research on a new and continued SMBA we want to concentrate and only briefly pause in physical presence of this institution, as beginning of next year we want to start a new space, we want to take SMBA forward as a new format, in the center of our thinking.

We want SMBA to continue its relevance into the future and to be a central voice of today.
Together we want to have everybody here and abroad to be able to experience and get to know this international cultural voices of Amsterdam.

We want to learn from dialogues and add multiple voices to our research
We want to learn more about how to be local in the changed conditions we are living and working in, how we are and want to be global, and what kind of institutional model we want to offer as an additional place to Amsterdam.

We also want to find out how can we be a place, which is open, flexibel and fit to continuously adopt to change in the arts and in society. We want to be used and needed as a public space. We really want to move and change in dialogue.

23 years ago, Museum Fodor voor Amsterdamse Kunst suddenly lost its funding from the city of Amsterdam. After protests from artists, the SMBA arose from a small amount reserved for that function.

(I’ve been told some fighting went on during the discussions about the closing of Fodor. Hopefully we manage today to have rather constructive fights of words….the great thing so is – if that happens – it shows that public institutions like these are emotional places, in the heart of many people… So, yes, we hope for real engagment.)

In the last 23 years, the SMBA has had many identities. It was successively led by Leontine Coelewij and Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen, and in recent years curated by Jelle Bouwhuis.

From a platform for young Amsterdam-based makers and artists, a production house and a breeding ground for local and increasingly international collaborations, it grew into a research center around Global Collaborations.

The Stedelijk was continuously nourished and inspired by the knowledge and networks resulting from SMBA, which were brought into the museum in various ways.
By including artworks from SMBA projects in its collection, or by including then young and relatively unknown artists in the Stedelijk’s exhibition programming. To mention a few of them: Rineke Dijkstra, Aernout Mik, Michael Tedja, Willem de Rooij, and Tino Sehgal. we recently also acquired video works by Tromarama and an installation by Amol Petil.

The relations between SMBA and the Stedelijk Museum were always charged with emotions, SMBA was kind of a self injected and assigned critisism: as a successor to Museum Fodor, as an inquisitive and critical satellite, as a pathfinder for experimental and new policymaking. The changing of ambitions or the relocation of a place mark endings, but always a new beginning as well.

When I started out here, I saw the great accomplishments of this place. In my previous job I closely followed SMBA’s exhibition programming and worked with several artists who have exhibited at SMBA, such as De Rijke/De Rooij. But I also noticed the more vulnerable aspects of this satellite. From the beginning, its financial and organizational frameworks have been less than perfect.
Lack of money has always been an issue. And when SMBA disappeared from the Kunstenplan in 2013, the Stedelijk became financially responsible and SMBA’s budget grew even tighter.
This was around the time of the museum’s re-opening, and the time of the massive budget cuts in the cultural sector. It is thanks to funds such as Ammodo, the Mondriaan Fund and others that systematically support SMBA that the place could even stay open after 2013…

End of last year we made the choice to seriously invest in the satellite institution, and to seek a repositioning of SMBA. It’s become clear to me that things must be arranged better and more sustainably. That is why, together with Ammodo, we’ve decided to investigate how the continuity of SMBA can be safeguarded and how its effects on this city can be still further expanded.

To briefly return to SMBA’s impact on the Stedelijk’s recent policy choices: the Global Collaborations program and Project 1975, both supported by Ammodo, are a key inspiration for the Stedelijk Museum’s course in the coming years. For example, in 2014 Global Collaborations resulted in a three-day conference and a strong awareness that this way of thinking must become anchored within our walls and our minds. Our programming for 2017 around the theme of migration in all its facets is a first result of this.
A clearly focused acquisition policy, thorough research led by Jelle Bouwhuis, and a collaboration with The Silent University are several other early results of this process.

We are acutely aware of the local situation, which often makes things difficult for Amsterdam-based artists. We’re not blind to the shortage of studio space, presentation locations and development centers. We have frequently urged the city government to ensure a long-term investment in the cultural urban infrastructure with regard to locations, controlled rent and the allocation of spaces.

We certainly feel a responsibility in this, but the Stedelijk Museum’s primary assignment is a different one.
Our task is to signal new developments in the field of art, we want to question rather then to confirm.
Our task is also to bring the world beyond our city into it, and to adequately present it.
We engage in and are alert of existing concerns – those that also surfaced in the advice report by the Amsterdam Kunstraad / art council – about differences, relationships and responsibilities between the Stedelijk Museum and smaller presentation spaces in Amsterdam. We want to open a new chapter for the SMBA, and the new institution should play a key part in the closing of gaps and the activation of collaborations.

Today we invited you for a public round to bring your voices and knowledge to our research.

We also invited three curators from diverse contexts, all of them with specific experience in setting up new institutional models in a local context.
We consider them exceptional and are very happy they agreed to work with us.

We are looking a lot forward for them to be thinking with us and the city of Amsterdam to bring extended knowledge to what is found here.

Together with our chief curator Bart van der Heide, with curator Martijn van Nieuwenhuyzen and Milou van Vlijmen of Ammodo they will team up in a working group, which will be also continuously open to your input.

Our three foreign experts are: Sophie Goltz, Eungie Joo, Emily Pethik.

Sophie Goltz, (DE) was initiator of the Stadtkuratorin in Hamburg, where since 2013 she has headed a program for public art that reflects global and social issues. She also works as curator for Neuer Berliner Kunstverein (since 2008), lectures at the Hochschule für Bildende Künste Hamburg, and writes for journals such as Texte zur Kunst and Springerin. Her previous roles include freelance curator and “art educator” for Documenta 11 (2002), the 3rd Berlin Biennale (2004), Projekt Migration, Cologne (2004–06), and Documenta 12 (2007).

Eungie Joo, joins us from the US, but more so from Korea where she is artistic director of the 5th An-yang Public Art Project to be inaugurated in October this year.
Eungie was curator of the 12th Sharjah Biennial (2015), Director of Art and Cultural Programs at Instituto Inhotim Brazil (2012-2014), and Keith Haring Director and Curator of Education and Public Programs at the New Museum, New York (2007-2012), where she installed the Museum as Hub project. At the New Museum, Joo published Rethinking Contemporary Art and Multicultural Education (Routledge and New Museum, 2009) and the Art Spaces Directory (ArtAsiaPacific and New Museum, 2012)
Eungie also curated The Ungovernables, 2012, presented „Condensation“ by Haegue Yang at the Korean Pavilion (2009) and was founding Director of REDCAT, Los Angeles (2003–2007).

Emily Pethick (UK) is director of The Showroom, London, which she relocated as well physically and mentally in the London landscape. Between 2003 and 2004, she was curator of Cubitt, London. She has contributed to numerous catalogs and journals, including Frieze, dot dot dot, GAS, Texte zur Kunst, Artforum, and Untitled, and has published a number of books.
Emily knows the Dutch landscape from inside, as from 2005–2008 she was director of Casco, Office for Art Design and Theory, in Utrecht – and is devising the curatorial program Curating Positions in 2016-2017 for the Dutch Art Institut (DAI).

Sophie, Eungie and Emily’s assignment is to make the rounds, to listen closely, to work closely with us and to present recommendations, based on their expertise, for an institution that will truly hold a position of its own within the ecosystem of Amsterdam art institutions.

Help them and us to get to know more, about what to focus on.
The agenda set today, with your input, will function as one of the starting points of the research group’s activities.

Please take the opportunity, contribute and help us in the development of a new institution, a place that gives expression to Amsterdam’s art production in all its shapes and forms.

We know that this decision aroused many emotions, but I would like to highlight again that we want to take a next step and focus on the future. We don’t want to stay for too long with these negative sentiments but we want to see this as a positive starting point.

It’s a good thing that these emotions are so prominent, right now. It shows that everyone is feeling very much involved.

I have heard many new things that can help us developing the research, thank you for that.

Listen to the debate on Soundcloud


Lectures April 12th, 2016

Between the Discursive and the Immersive

A Symposium on Research in the 21st-Century Art Museum

3 & 4 December 2015

What is the meaning and potential of research in museums of Modern Art? Seen their unique position at the intersection of academic discourse, artistic inquiries and artistic research, and the broad audiences they engage with, what contributions can museums make? These were some of the questions addressed during the two-day symposium Between the Discursive and the Immersive, which was organized by the Stedelijk Museum in collaboration with the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art and the Aarhus University. The symposium brought together a wide range of international curators, educators, museum professionals and people from an academic background, combining theoretical reflection with hands-on experience in the form of 7-minute Pecha Kucha presentations.  Curator, researcher and writer Christel Vesters reports.

Auditorium Louisiana Museum

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The Stedelijk Museum regularly invites guest bloggers to share their experiences and ideas about a particular subject, work or exhibition. Aernoud Bourdrez is a lawyer for the art world and a collector of contemporary art. He talks about the distinction between the “world of systems” and the “world we live in”, and considers that this is reflected in the works of Tino Sehgal.

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