Review of Art Rotterdam, 5-8 February

Now in its 16th year and continuing to grow in both scale and ambition, Art Rotterdam is the international art fair that turns the circuit’s attention to up-and-coming talent. Since moving to UNESCO World Heritage Site the Van Nellefabriek in 2014, Art Rotterdam’s Main Section has swollen to 103 galleries. The fair is supplemented by the Mondrian Fund show, which supports artists at the very beginning of their careers. It also features an impressive range of outdoor work, and in We Like Art there is even an affordable art fair. New this year is Intersections, giving art fair coverage to artists’ initiatives and non-profit galleries.

One such gallery, A Tale of a Tub, presents David Helbich’s Six scores for the body & building & soul for the Van Nelle Factory, Rotterdam, whose bodily instructions include hugging pillars and gently whispering to the walls. Helbich also suggests, “If you enjoy this, do it twice”, advice which could also apply to Art Rotterdam itself, one full circuit of which demands a full day, and a number of coffee and meal breaks if one is to really see it.

The Main Section’s 78 galleries run the gamut of the commercial art-world; with collages particularly well represented across various mediums,most notably by Andres Galeano’s Anonymous Photography at Denmark’s Grimmuseum. At New York’s Pablo’s Birthday gallery, Christian Eisenberger’s disturbingly frantic images of reptile and insect-infested, clown-populated sex scenes sit opposite Thorsten Brinkmann’s calming still life works, which combine such diverse materials as domestic wallpaper and Scalextric track to create their own unique visual language. Materiality is represented with great sensitivity by Danish collector Martin Kudlek, where one can lose oneself gazing into Angela Glajcar’s exquisite paper works and Lucie Beppler’s architectural thread-drawings.

At the Belgian gallery Harlan Levey Projects, smooth-talking Abner Preis regaled an afternoon audience with the story of Red Bulle; his meaningful message cunningly concealed within childlike storyboarding (also available in book form). Filip Gilissen’s Listen to your Dream, presented jointly NICC and Bunk Club galleries – again, Belgian – comprised a wall of photographs of Labrador puppies printed on mirrors and overlaid with “feel-good quotes from Ancient Greek philosophers”. The dogs were resplendent at the private view in matching gold waistcoats and hats. Both Glissen and Preis showed that, when pitched correctly, irony can still deliver a heavy pathos / bathos pincer effect.

In Intersections, Art Rotterdam more than fulfils its promise to expose us to younger and emerging artists. Its 1300m2 former workshops have been given over to 19 artists’ initiatives and non-profit galleries. Intersections feels like the spirit of Art Rotterdam: younger and more experimental. Focusing this year on Dutch-Flemish initiatives, Intersections is indicative of a vibrant low-countries’ contemporary art scene. Side-rooms buzz with performances and audience participatory events, from live music courtesy of Stichting IK Gallery (NL), to Enrico Gaido’s use of expanding concrete to create a kind of slow-motion explosion. Zoro Feigl’s Untangling the Tides, at Dutch gallery Trendbeheer, lies two parallel 20 metre lengths of heavy duty rope on the floor, each tethered at either end to a rotating motor. The twisting ropes writhe against each other, slowly coming together along their lengths until their tension bears greater force than the resistance of their own weight and one rope clambers up and over the other. The ropes pick up and deposit sand and dirt from the factory floor, whose ripples are traced out by a series of tide marks around the perimeter of the area. From another side-room there is the intermittent clacking of clay balls on a concrete pool table – by Nicolas Lamas for Belgian Gallery Lokaal 01 – sometimes the balls shatter, which alters the playing surface and creates a sculpture to be shown afterwards.

Detached from it all is 2014 Hague Royal Academy graduate Marijn Ottenhof, who holds a series of deliberately awkward poses within her performative installation, Superabundans. Idyllic and dystopian in equal measure, Ottenhof’s work pits the apparent abundance of choice in everyday life against the ubiquitous shallowness of consumerism. One feels that were any of these galleries or collectives to find themselves in the main section at a future Art Rotterdam, they might be making wall-based works designed for sale rather than the wonderful and sometimes chaotic site-specific works on display at Intersections. Art Rotterdam showcases a colourful cross-section of young and up-and-coming contemporary art galleries and artists, but in Intersections they show us how moving art can really be when the commercial element is removed, or in this case, before it is added.

Art Rotterdam, 5-8 February, Van Nellefabriek, Van Nelleweg 1, 3044BC Rotterdam.

Trevor H Smith

1. Nicoline Timmer, Making waves instead #3 (woven blanket), 2013.