Carel Blotkamp

early and recent work

14 April - 10 June 2007

Carel Blotkamp (1945) studied art history at the Universiteit van Utrecht where, after completing his studies, he himself lectured on the history of modern art. Since 1982 he has been professor of modern art history at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam, a position from which he will be retiring later this year. Blotkamp is the author of numerous publications on subjects such as De Stijl and has written studies of artists including Mondriaan, Pyke Koch, Carel Visser and Daan van Golden. He was co-founder and editor of the art magazines Simiolus and Jong Holland and wrote reviews for Vrij NederlandNRC Handelsblad and DeVolkskrant. In addition to this, Carel Blotkamp has been active as an artist since 1967 and has exhibited his work frequently over the years.

Texts are often the point of departure for Blotkamp’s visual work, and the history of modern art has been a theme of his for years. The presentation being held in the project space involves the latter. In addition to recent works based on Henri Matisse, Kasimir Malevich and Barnett Newman, the exhibition includes the paintings and works on paper by which Blotkamp took on the confrontation with Piet Mondriaan in his first one-man show at Galerie Waalkens in Finsterwolde in 1976.

It is not only the works themselves, but also the way in which they are being shown that implies commentary. The presentation of paintings taken from Mondriaan could be regarded as a traditional, ‘museum-like’ arrangement, while the works based on Matisse and Newman are hung in a more random manner. Hanging diagonally opposite these are works after Malevich, Black Square appearing high in the corner as a link between the two walls: this happens to be a reconstruction of Malevich’s paintings at the 0.10 exhibition held in St. Petersburg in 1915. 

Blotkamp describes his concern for Mondriaan during the seventies as a kind of ‘stalking’ prompted by a mixture of reverence and resentment. In defiance of Mondriaan’s notorious aversion to the color green, Blotkamp then painted a ‘green’ version of his Composition with Yellow Lines from 1933. And he demonstrated that the same line segments also lend themselves to a ‘Van Doesburg’, a ‘Van der Leck’ or a ‘Malevich’. In doing so he paraphrased not only the principles of form used by these artists; he also adopted their specific manner of painting as well as their preference for a particular type of frame.

In the works from 2005-2007 Blotkamp follows his models more closely where composition and the use of color are concerned. Yet many admirers of modern art will have difficulty with these works after Newman, Matisse and Malevich. Carel Blotkamp’s ‘imitations’ of Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue, La perruche et la sirène and theSuprematist Compositions flash at the viewer due to the hundreds of sequins incorporated in them. The works exude his delight in the dubious qualities of this material. At the same time, all of those sequins are ‘worn’ by the icons of modernism like a mustache on the Mona Lisa. Frivolous profusion clashes with art that aimed to capture the essence in a single image. But Blotkamp has gone to a great deal of trouble for merely settling a score with modernism. The compositions of Newman, Matisse and Malevich have been copied meticulously. With a number of these, a reproduction served as the actual ground, and the original, often very large format was abandoned; with others the composition has been conscientiously carried out on a full scale with the aid of a grid. Everything points to the artist’s earnestness in performing his task here. Throughout the hours of diligent work, he appears to have met with dilemmas: how does one render a diagonal line or a circle with the use of sequins applied in grid form, and what is the equivalent of white on white? Malevich’s Suprematist Composition with White Cross surprises us by the alternation of white and transparent sequins, which reflect the light in pearl-like hues. Even Matisse’s cut-outs have an added festiveness.

Nevertheless we wonder what we are actually looking at: what do these collages continue to have in common with the original works? The self-evident unity that exists between the idea, the image and the materiality has been severely disrupted and sometimes literally turned upside down. Blotkamp allows the confusion to last and lets us discover, in a ‘botched’ Malevich, Newman or Matisse, an ‘authentic’ Blotkamp.