Stimulating offers of paper art and book art abound in The Hague in June and July 2018.
Museum Rijswijk celebrates its twelfth Paper Biennial (12 June – 7 October). The Pulchri Studio hosts a major exhibition (1-22 July) for the founders of the Paper Biennial — Peter and Pat Gentenaar-Torley. In advance of the latter exhibition, I visited the Biennial and then the Gentenaar-Torleys in their studio as they were preparing for the show and, as it turned out, rushing to fill last-minute orders from the Middle East.
The Twelfth Paper Biennial
As you enter the Museum Rijswijk, the large paper chess set in the courtyard elicits a smile and, with the overcast, a cocked eyebrow — a good combination for this exhibition and museum. The building neatly combines contemporary and 18th century Dutch interior features that deceive the visitor into thinking it small then being surprised by the number of rooms. Cheerful (or somber) deception combined with delightful (or startled) surprise are a common thread in book art and paper art. So is looking back and forward. The 12th Paper Biennial is no exception in its fitting environment.
Eighteen artists are each represented by multiple works, enough in most cases to appreciate style and technique and to compare and contrast within each display as well as across the artists’ displays. While many items in the Paper Biennial 2018 are of the “stop you in your tracks” variety, perhaps my planned visit to the Gentenaar-Torley studio or the museum shop’s selection of the Genetenaar-Torley books from the first seven biennials had primed my eyes for the particular works below. Large but airy paper fabrications floating from the ceiling or wall. Abstraction melded with the figurative. Vegetal and handmade paper. Saturation of colors. Innovativeness. Although, missing was an example of Pat Gentenaar-Torley’s hallmark technique of painting with thin layers of colored pulp.
On entering the most spacious room, my eye was caught by Mathilde van Wijnen’s Ruimte. In English, “ruimte” translates variously as space, room, area, place, capacity, location, aerospace, range, wideness, spot, compass and largeness. Under Van Wijnen’s hand and tools, it also translates into rhythms of light and shadow, evoking an expanse of dunes.
Another of Van Wijnen’s work in the same room plays with light in a different way: Helios.
The shifting metallic sheen and trompe l’oeil effect of Mathilde van Wijnen’s Helios (2014) and, in different rooms, of Lei (2016) and Bouten (2016) are mesmerizing and made me retrace my steps more than twice.
I like it that the technique is not very obvious and it remains mysterious. I also like to hear about my black works that people think it is made of a different material than paper, sometimes leather or fabric. (Correspondence from Mathilde van Wijnen, 20 June 2018)
Another artist in the show capable of making the abstract tangible is Annita Smit. Her piece called Frivool is a good example. In English, “frivool” means frivolous, light-hearted, flighty, shallow and flippant. In Smit’s hands, calque or tracing paper becomes all of that and more — a feathery embodiment of those Dutch winds that swirl every which way.
Smit’s material and colorful works reminded me of Beate Hoffmeister’s similar use of telephone directories (featured in the second Paper Biennial book put together by the Gentenaar-Torleys) and the textural effects achieved by Pavlos (featured in the sixth Paper Biennial book).
Comparing/contrasting this earlier work with that of Smit is like comparing the techniques and palettes of the Impressionists with that of Hundertwasser.
Andy Singleton sticks to white for all of his pieces in the show.
What is special about this paper is its ability to absorb water without damaging the paper. … The process I use to create the forms is called wet folding. I cut each piece of paper to the shape I want, this spray the paper with water to dampen the material. This allows me to manipulate the paper in ways that would be difficult when dry without damaging it. I then dry the paper rapidly with a heater (hair dryer or electric fan heater) to hold it on position. The paper is now set in its new form. (Correspondence from Andy Singleton, 22 June 2018)
As with many of the artists’ works in the show, Andy Singleton’s are clustered in different rooms. While this curatorial approach might irritate some, I found that it worked to lead me back and forth to spend more time with the individual works. The smaller wraith-like productions by Singleton on the floor above sent me back downstairs for another look at the large Silk series, where I was reminded of Katrin Zutter’s Tranquillity from the third Paper Biennial book (2000).
Throughout the exhibition, works draw attention to their material in differing degrees and with differing intentions. Angelique van der Valk’s is one of the more organic, almost raw in degree, and takes us back to the origin of paper and, by extension, culture: vegetable papyrus.
The Groente Abstract (Vegetable and Abstract) series are a result of many experiments. Every kind of vegetable has its own intrinsic qualities and the way of treating each material differs….The tension between abstraction on one side and the organic forms of this material on the other hand, is what I find most interesting. It reflects, to my mind, the way we live: culture on the one hand, nature on the other. I strive for harmony between these two, or to make their tension and friction visible. (Correspondence from Angelique van der Valk, 21 June 2018)
Fittingly entitled Tijdloos Papier/Timeless Paper, the fourth Paper Biennial book (2002) carried a guide to making vegetable papyrus. Gentenaar’s inclusion of such an article follows naturally from his own early sculptures’ borrowing from plant shapes.
Gentenaar’s artist’s statement “The Memory of Paper” begins
My inspiration is a plant bud, which, in spring, unfolds into a leaf. A compact folded form feeds itself with water and turns into a great spacious form. In autumn, this leaf falls off of the tree, the water evaporates and a small web of fibers curling around the spine is the new form.
Peter’s leanings toward nature/abstraction and Pat’s, as seen in the 2017 Suzhou exhibition, would certainly lead them to cheer on Jocelyn Châteauvert’s process and her contributions to the Paper Biennial 2018.
As to the process, understand that I am the papermaker and thus determine a number of aspects such as fiber, sheet thickness, translucency and color. I also have to anticipate shrinkage. As the paper for this had fiber beaten for 4 hours, there is at least 30% shrinkage. I use this aspect to create structural integrity in the piece without having to introduce other materials for support. So all the necks of the birds actually hold the piece up. (Correspondence from Jocelyn Châteauvert, 21 June 2018)
Only on exiting through the museum’s shop did I notice how the early Paper Biennials’ books explicitly and ingeniously showcased paper samples such as Nepalese lokta paper (as above), handmade abaca, Japanese washi paper and many other varieties of handcrafted paper. Later on, I learned that from the start in 1996 with Voelbaar Papier/Tactile Paper (1996), all seven books included “papier monsters” (paper samples).
Perhaps the Gentenaar-Torleys’ books made it possible for the twelfth Paper Biennial to assume its viewers would appreciate implicitly or simply take in stride the variety of paper types used by the exhibition’s eighteen artists. But for this viewer, that assumption just gives reason for another revisit, and the Paper Biennial 2018 does reward a lingering visit.
In my case, however, the lingering made me late for my visit to the Gentenaar-Torley studio.
A Visit with the Founders
Despite the size of The Netherlands, each locale seems more spacious than possible. Like the country and Museum Rijswijk, the Gentenaar-Torley studio seems to hold more space than it should contain. From the quiet of the “front house”, as Pat calls it, she led me to noise of saws, drills and industrial-size fans whirring. Shaking her head at the noise and activity, she explained that the Address Downtown Hotel, Dubai, which reopened in early June, had placed a rush order for 10 sculptures, reduced it to 5, then ordered 12 more, and just as those had been dispatched, a Qatari order delayed a year due to the blockade was reactivated — all in the midst of preparing for the Pulchri Studio exhibition. A workman with saw and drill was preparing the crates for the shipment to Doha. Peter drying a piece for the retrospective was the source of the whirring fan’s noise. Suspended by twine, the piece could have been a cloud or massive version of Pat’s koi caught in a net over the large custom-built vacuum table.
This is the constant state of affairs at the Gentenaar-Torley studio. Consider these events from May 2017 through June 2018:
- Exhibition at the Suzhou Jinji Lake Museum (April-June 2017)
- Installation at Stefanuskerk Westerbork (May 2017)
- Suzhou China Exhibition Book (July 2017)
- Aesthetics of Paper Exhibition in Suzhou Art Museum (September-October 2017)
- Exhibition in the Suzhou Center (December 2017)
- Installation at the Galerie de Minéralogie et de Géologie, in Paris for the Iris van Herpen Couture Collection (January 2018)
- Installation at 1355 Peachtree, a building with mixed businesses in Atlanta, Georgia (March 2018)
- Inclusion in the Jinji Lake Biennale, Suzhou China (May-June 2018)
The Pulchri Studio exhibition — “Is beauty only skin deep” (July 2018) — will include older and newer works. That title is equally appropriate to each artist although in different ways. Starting with layers of dyed paper pulp clinging to large frameworks of bamboo or raffia palm, Peter coaxes a two-dimensional sheet into a three-dimensional object.
Pat, on the other hand, coaxes a sense of three dimensionality from layers of dyed pulp, applying them wet on wet and, literally, working backwards, up from what will be the top layer of the painting to the next layer, then the next without disturbing the fibers that she has nudged into the shapes she wants in each layer. Think of it as the reversal of the steps in oils or frescoes in which first comes the background, then layering upwards and ending at the top.
In those different ways, surface breeds depth from within which beauty rises.
I made my second visit to the studio on the day Peter, Trude (daughter) and Pim (son-in-law) were loading a truck with the works for the Pulchri Studio. Pat had the task of preparing the price list but took a break to allow for photos of the “well-ordered chaos” of the works remaining for transport.
Among the items readied for the Pulchri Studio were other items destined for different locations. This one scheduled for installation in one of the Holland America Line cruise ships reminded me how lucky one might have to be to see the works from the Gentenaar-Torley studio. Other installations have been commissioned by the TUI cruise line, the top-floor restaurant in Disney World’s Hotel Four Seasons and Yas Mall in Abu Dhabi. If you live in Atlanta, Georgia, you can see Ruby Takes Flight at 1355 Peachtree Street, NE.
Better luck still if you are within striking distance of The Hague. Along the linden-lined Lange Voorhout, the Pulchri Studio stands at number 15, and in its large Mesdagzaal, the exhibition runs from 1 July through 22 July. Art sometimes requires that you make your own luck.