Henri's berichten over zijn recente activiteiten

Henri's reports on his recent activities

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donderdag 28 augustus 2014

Curiosity I

Arts centre “De Appel” based in Amsterdam features the exhibition “Curiosity”, curated by the writer Brian Dillon. According to the booklet that accompanies the show, “… the exhibition takes as its starting point the rich tradition of the 17th century European Wunderkammer , the cabinet in which collectors of the day assembled curiosites, natural wonders and art objects, and which may be regarded as predecessors of the 19th century museum.” Which I should like to expand to: the Art Museum as well as the Natural History Museum.  But, the booklet continues: “… The exhibition traced how the search for the strange and the wonderful still plays a role in contemporary art”. And so it is.

However, curiosity, a hunger to uncover the unknown, also plays a role in science. In this exhibition, there is a bias towards artistic experiences: sensory impulses to acquire knowledge, and a guilty desire for the pleasures of new and strange things. There is more of a bias towards the arts than to the sciences. And so, I get back at the Wunderkammer: in those days, one could see something exceptional and noteworthy from the worlds out there. Here, in "De Appel", we learn about the personal sensibilities of the curator. There are no whys attached, his choices simply seem to be his favorites.

And so I get to my own subject: The exhibition in "De Appel" features 24 glass models of invertebrate animals by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka, a loan from the collections of National Museum Wales.
We are told  about  the father and son team: “… At first they based their models on illustrations, including those of Philip Henry Gosse. Later they acquired an aquarium and worked from live specimens. They reproduced octopi, sea slugs, cuttlefish, squid and sea cucumbers.” It is suggested (but not implied) that the Blaschka family had a branch of Sea Life in their house, whereas in reality they kept merely creatures like jellyfish and, mainly,  sea anemones in tanks. The text thus directs our curiosity to an unreal situation. This certainly questions the leads the booklet attaches to the other exhibits.

showcase in the room
Another fact certainly raises my expert curiosity: the production date of all exhibited glass animals was set in the 1890s, whereas in that period the Blaschkas were already fully occupied in producing botanical models, congenially known as the collection of  “The Glass Flowers of Harvard." Moreover: the majority of the Cardiff models shown in “De Appel” were made well before 1880. Any visitor with a genuine curiosity concerning the glass animals, Is poorly and even ill served and informed. This being said, it is a great choice of glass objects. 

Today, a sample from the Belgian collection of  Aquarium-Muséum de l’Université de Liège (made in 1886) is combined with a sample of models from the Utrecht University Museum (made in 1883) in the Glass museum, Leerdam. These glass animals are included in the exhibition “A Sea of Glass” highlighting the influence of  professor Ernst Haeckel on the visual arts of the Art Nouveau period - and more. When examining the Cardiff models in Amsterdam, it will be clear that these early glass models were, from an artisanal and artistic perspective, superior to the post 1880 specimens. This alone might be enough reason to visit Curiosity in Amsterdam.

Photographs taken with my phone

Carmarina hastata 

Actinophrys sol

Showcase (detail)

"De Appel" houses even two Blaschka models that were based on scientific zoological illustrations by Ernst Haeckel: the jellyfish Carmarina hastata (male), and a model of the radiolarium (a kind of microorganism) Actinophrys Sol on a highly enlarged scale. These could have done well in “A Sea of Glass” at the Leerdam Museum. Because, the glass models in the current show over there, do not have a specific relation with Ernst Haeckel at all - but then, there is always free association. 
 In comparison, the show in Amsterdam is really nice, even if the architecture of "De Appel" does not allow for larger spatial objects and the majority of the exhibits has to be on the walls, flat and framed.

Pablo Bronstein made a large drawing in Indian ink and a wash of ink on paper, picturing shapes of objects in the shown exhibition. I wonder, what could be the meaning of this? Is it a gesture of friendship and admiration between the artist-draftsman Bronstein and the writer Dillon? It is my Curiosity to know why this work “Museum Section 2013” was included at all.

Curiosity, Art and the Pleasures of Knowing 
in: "De Appel", closing September 14, 2014
A Hayward Touring exhibition, from the Southbank Centre, London  organized in collaboration with Turner Contemporary, Margate and in association with Cabinet magazine

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