Jan Dibbets

Weert NL 1941, lives and works in Amsterdam

Toward the end of the 1960s the focus shifts, throughout Europe and the United States, from the work of art as a ‘finished’ product to the ideas and processes that make up its foundation. Many works have a transitory character or even consist of a single event. Photographs and notes attest to the fervor of this time and critics lament that ‘everything’ seems to be permissible. Jan Dibbets rouses this spirit in the Netherlands.

Painting seems to be outdated as a medium during this time. Jan Dibbets, who began as a painter and who will surprisingly soon consider himself one again, makes use of photography, by which he manages to provide perception and the image with new impulses. In his ‘perspective corrections’ the tension between space and surface assumes a completely unexpected form.

In Perspective Correction, My Studio i, i: Square on Wall (1969), for instance, a geometric shape (a trapezoid which Dibbets has drawn on the back wall of his studio) becomes mysteriously detached from the wall. Due to the distortion, it becomes a square that seems to be hovering in space. The image is intriguing and, at the same time, gives rise to questions about the difference between photographic ‘reality’ and painterly ‘illusion’. During that same year Dibbets shows, in a sequence of photographs, the gradual change of light that is cast in through the windows of his studio. It is a poetic and concentrated image of an interval of time that nearly eludes immediate perception.

Perhaps the best known works of Dibbets date from the 1970s. These are collages of photographs which show his fascination with reality and its frequently unexpected visual structure (the perspectival lines in a landscape, receding pavement tiles, movements and reflections in water), but which are nonetheless always more than a collection of different viewpoints. The constructions in themselves often constitute an unusual and surprising image. In Dutch Mountain/sea (1971), for instance, Dibbets allows the sea to flow toward the viewer from various angles, while the panorama as a whole rises up like a mountain.


Many of Dibbets’s works betray his love of architecture – not only due to the cited examples, but also through his concern for the relationship between viewer and space. Just as a large space can be explored in changing perspectives, throughout which the viewer remains at the center of its shifts, the curved form into which Dibbets places his shots keeps the viewer in the middle. At the same time, every perspective has, in a certain sense, an imaginary quality as ‘image’. It is as though one looks at a space which one does not enter, at forms and light which are there mainly to be contemplated.