|DUTCH UNIVERSITY INSTITUTE FOR ART HISTORY FLORENCE|
On the occasion of its fortieth anniversary, the Dutch Institute in Florence set up a permanent exhibition of Dutch sculptures and installations in its garden, which serves to indicate various directions taken by Dutch sculptors in the course of the last fifty years. The figurative tradition is represented by Nic Jonk, Arthur Spronken and Geer Steyn, sculptors who, under the influence of the principal classical-modernists such as Lipchitz, Moore, Marini and Wotruba, continued to choose visual reality for their explorations in the abstract. Mythology, classical antiquity, man and animal determined their thematic choices.
At the other end of the scale are Willem de Kooning, the forceful Americanized Dutchman, and Shinkichi Tajiri, the subtle 'Hollandized' Japanese-American. De Kooning is a painter who paints in bronze. Tajiri - sculptor of a CoBra movement - arrives at abstraction by way of surrealism and expressionism. The roots of the working methods of these two artists go back to the Fifties, the post-war period that witnessed a surge of artistic innovations.
The works of another ex-member of the CoBra group, Karel Appel, include strange heads and animals, which are linked to the CoBra poetic conception of infantile drawing: They are painted on a large table and on the four personifications of the Seasons that imitate eighteenth-century art. All these works are made of glazed ceramics, and formerly decorated the garden of Appel's Tuscan villa. Recollections of the language and themes of CoBra are also evident in three other works by the artist, made at the beginning of the Nineties: Cat on Head, Bird in Flight, and Hanging Heads. In these works, the typical heads and animals have been placed in a context of domestic utensils and tubes. Rather different in appearance is the very solid and monumental group of the Three Flowers, which seems - at least in part - to be of wood, but which is in fact of bronze. Together, the materials, forms, and themes give these works a mysterious, expressive and alienating accent.
The geometric abstraction of the sixties - The inheritance of Mondrian and 'De Stijl' - is well represented by the three-dimensional inventions of Yvonne Kracht and André Volten, and by the iron construction in the front garden. These sculptors use angular, round, and pointed forms to explore and investigate space. To this end they selected materials that are essentially non-sculptural, such as steel and polystyrene, Thus also involving industry in support of their artistic creation. The result has led them to choose a-personal titles for their work, for example Relief Invention with Three Verticals and Acute Angles.
The land art innovator of the seventies also is represented in the garden, with a work by Leo Vroegindewij: a voluminous ribbon of blocks of grey cement, surrounded by nine lead balls, is spread out in the sand under the green of the olive trees. It is entitled Untitled. Kees de Goede, on the other hand, collaborating with The marble workers of Pietrasanta, has designed and executed for the garden a circular object of highly polished white marble and granite, which reflect the sky above.
The poetic works of Jeroen Henneman and Peer Veneman belong to the postmodern period of the eighties, the most modern current included in the garden. Besides being a sculptor, Henneman is above all a painter and inventor of works of art, the subjects of which appear to be recognisable, but which are always alienating, and mock the figurative language and materials of traditional art. Veneman, too, overturns traditions, from which he takes recognisable elements, putting them into compositions of a completely different nature. The conceptual character of these two artists reveals itself like a spiral in the tangible forms of their works.
The Dutch sculpture garden today has over fifteen works on display, which offer a sampling of the range of contemporary sculpture in Holland. A committee composed of specialists and Dutch artists searches in Dutch museum collections for other works that could be lent, but it also invites individual, well-known artists to offer one of their pieces, so that the number of sculptures increases, and the 'visiting-card' of Dutch contemporary sculpture in Florence will appear ever larger and more articulate. And it is precisely in Florence, where the sculpture garden belongs to a tradition rich in extraordinary examples, that a display of Dutch contemporary sculpture in the green and the light of these hills can compare well with artistic treasures of the past.
The garden and olive grove that surround the Istituto Universitario Olandese of Florence are ideally suited for the display of contemporary sculpture. The site is composed of a succession of different spaces at various levels. The front garden is formal, and needs a monumental, spectacular work that is representative of the Istituto, and at the same time attracts the attention of those outside. The small internal court is intimate and secluded, with a mysterious extension towards what one might call a 'grotto', next to the library reading room. In an almost magical way, a winding passage leads by way of stairs to the upper level, towards the apotheosis of the excursion: The grove of olives, surrounded by villas, pine trees, and Florentine cypresses, enveloped in the splendid light of the Italian sky, a light that manages to arouse these sculptures originating in the foggy regions of the Netherlands.