I loved Natures Mortes, last year’s exhibition and performance by Anne Imhof at the Palais de Tokyo. I was a bit skeptical when I read that the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam had also given Anne Imhof carte blanche. Of course I don’t know when the Stedelijk Museum invited Anne Imhof, but I had the nagging feeling that they wanted to capitalize on the success of Natures Mortes. Even so I had been looking forward to the exhibition. The result is disappointing, to say the least.
The main exhibition space is filled with stacks of tires, grey plastic stacking containers, water tanks, the graffiti covered panels that also featured in Natures Mortes and some leftover walls from Stedelijk Museum Base. As in Natures Mortes there’s a motorcycle and a mattress with an electric guitar on top and some soda cans. The other space is lined with lockers, which also featured in one room in Natures Mortes, and which according to the room text, is supposed to “address the possibility of development or change, and thus the malleability of identity”. This section also includes two video works. One shows a topless woman in jeans walking through the snow at an abandoned industrial site. The other video shows the same topless woman again in jeans on a horse. And that is basically it.
Anne Imhof had more than a year to prepare for the show and what I assume a generous budget to do pretty much whatever she liked. If this is the best that she can come up with that is pretty sad. To me it looks like she and her team were completely lost for ideas. But perhaps this is just her seeing what she can get away with.
For Natures Mortes Anne Imhof had selected a number of artworks by other artists, which made for an excellent group show. The real star of Natures Mortes was the Palais de Tokyo itself. The installation by Anne Imhof and the artworks blended perfectly with the architecture.
The basement of the Stedelijk Museum is just a large sterile white space with no natural light and no character. There is nothing to build or draw on. Anything is possible, but you do have to imagine it. Filling the entire space might have seemed like an interesting idea on paper and might have looked good in the computer renderings, but it doesn’t work in practice. That in itself is OK. It’s in the nature of art. You try something and sometimes it doesn’t work no matter how much you tinker with it. You discard it and move on. In the case of a drawing or a painting that is easy, but in the case of a large scale installation it is admittedly a bit more difficult and takes more courage.
Rein Wolfs, director of the Stedelijk Museum, called the installation an “extremely important development” for Imhof. This is art world speak for “this is not what we expected and we’re very disappointed”.
I know full well that when you create a work of art at some point you have to put it out into the open and let the world decide. Some people may like it others don’t. That’s just the way it is.
I still have fond memories of Natures Mortes. Youth shows once again that reversion to the mean also applies to art.
Anne Imhof: Youth is at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam until 29 January 2023.