Vegas Gallery is proud to present the first UK solo show by the Dutch artist duo Liet Heringa and Maarten van Kalsbeek.
The works of Heringa/Van Kalsbeek defy easy reading, despite the immediacy and aesthetic appeal of their stunning and colourful works. Working in a range of media and techniques ' including ceramics, sculptures from found and fabricated materials and photography- it is their sculptures on varying scales that first brought them to the attention of the museal circuit where their work is now regularly featured, both in exhibitions and public collections.
The similarities with the language of Abstract Expressionism is overt and clear; as if their work were the three-dimensional realization of ideas and approaches that we readily associate with that movement. It might be a freestanding De Koonig or Jackson Pollock's notions of 'action painting' realized as an object. The connections here are various. Abstract Expressionism's influential mark on Dutch contemporary art canons through its strong associations with the internationally recognized artists working with these practices since the 1950's form both an academic background and personal stimulus for Heringa/van Kalsbeek. This is not at all limited to an aesthetic affinity. Just as the emphasis on artist expression freed of normative and socialized controls imposed on the artist was an essential part of freeing up art in the post-World War II era, so too do Liet Heringa and Maarten van Kalsbeek seek out a means of working in which the artists' knee-jerk desire to control the work is internationally curtailed.
Heringa/Van Kalsbeek actively question commonly received notions of authorship and the idea of the artist as a 'genius creator' by entering into a practice in which their 'controlled accidents' ensure a great deal of chance and happenstance within the development of each work. Working as a duo enables a mode of production in which each keeps a check on the other; each prevents the other from taking too much control over the highly volatile and fluid coloured polyurethane before it solidifies. Within this framework, they are able to explore a number of personal preoccupations such as the natural behaviour of both synthetic and organic materials and its relationship to the world around us, both natural and manmade. Chaos, science, nature and a more cosmic sense of the universal are frequently evoked as the materials come to visually allude to the actual physical and organic reactions by which they have been facilitated.
This does not mean that Heringa/van Kalsbeek inhabit an artistic space in which everything is abandoned to chance. On the contrary, whilst the accidental and the circumstantial are constantly negotiated, each work is drawn from a series of ideas and influences that inform the preparation for production. Natural found materials ' such as flowers, feathers or corals- might play a role in informing form, composition and colour. But these choices do not exist in a vacuum.
On approaching the apparently entirely abstract works more closely, the viewer can start to make the connections with much older painting and decorative arts traditions. The compositions and colours of a work might readily refer to seventeenth century traditions of vanitas paintings in which those familiar florid bouquets or sumptuous feasts laid out ultimately stand for more than just a still-life, beautifully contrasted with dark backgrounds. An orchid embalmed in colourful polyurethane deep within the guts of a sculpture might stand for this tradition; a few carefully placed feathers on its surface a trigger for a memory of the perfectly painted plumage of juicy poultry laid out on a kitchen table or an exotic imported bird in a work by Adriaen van Utrecht. At other times, we might be taken in an Eastern direction ' by a title perhaps- and can make connections not only with artistic and decorative techniques arising from Asia, but, invariably, a contemplation of the tendency within certain Asian traditions to aestheticize chance and the imprint of natural processes linked to spiritual belief systems.
In restraining their directions to the viewer as much as their working process, Heringa/van Kalsbeek never clarify whether these connections are entirely incidental or intentional.
But, given the frequency with which notions of the domestic ' even laterally- resurface in their work, it seems safer to suspect the latter, especially given the close relationship between these particular traditions of Dutch painting and the historical development of domesticity. At times we see pattern readily alluding to associations with the decorative arts and, in particular, with the kinds of decorative arts bound up with the development of the domestic interior. The coloured ripples combed through polyurethane whilst still wet, once solidified, evoke the glazing traditions of familiar Art Nouveau and Jugendstil pottery or glass. The connection with the domestic is often also highlighted in the display choices of the artists. They have not only readily entertained showing work in museum settings against the background of extant heritage interiors and collections of much older art, but, even within the setting of 'the white cube', choose to paint the walls another colour or eschew the traditional plinth in favour of designs that immediately bring domestic furniture to mind.
Furthermore, the overt Asian references re-viewed in the context of the domestic accumulate new meanings; a layer of history reminding us of the massive crossover between the Dutch heritage as a trading nation and the visual cultures it has produced. Whether a piece of Chinese porcelain or an exotic flower imported from the Indies in a seventeenth century painting or a pattern in an Art Nouveau tea set appropriated from Java, what remains as an object often contains more narratives of circumstance than first meets the eye. Like the apocryphal metaphor for Chaos Theory in which the flapping of a butterfly's wings on one side of the world contribute to a hurricane on the other, the distinct vernaculars that are now considered the epitome of western European visual cultures may involve essential and characteristic elements that actually result from the immense number of variables triggered by contemporaneous politics, trade and colonization.
In much the same way that their production process seems to be directly questioning the context of the artist in contemporary society, so to does their engagement with the domestic ' through highly abstracted art works- seem to be questioning the context of the art object in that same contemporary society and, perhaps even how we now understand the provenance of any prestigious art object placed on a pedestal.
Heringa/van Kalsbeek live and work in Amsterdam. Their solo institutional shows include Stedelijk Museum CS, Amsterdam; Nederlandsche Bank, Amsterdam; GEM, The Hague, The Museum de Fundatie, Heino and The Museum of Modern Art Arnhem. They have fulfilled a range of commissions for art in public spaces and participated in over thirty group exhibitions including those at Museum Het Prinsenhof, Delft; Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo; The Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, Norwich; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Trans-Ceramic-Art,The 3rd World Ceramic Biennale 2005, Korea; Attese Biennale Ceramica Arte Contemporanea, Albisola and Kunstmuseum Bonn, Bonn.