In Amsterdam recently, three different galleries have presented Scottish artists. ‘Pure coincidence’, according to gallerist Diana Stigter, who is showing the work of Glasgow-based artist Sue Tompkins. She only found out about the exhibitions of work by Morag Keil at the Grimm gallery further down the street and Lucy Stein at the Martin van Zomeren gallery on nearby Prinsengracht, when organising the collective opening activities. Being one of the few Amsterdam galleries represented at main international art fairs such as Art Basel, Armory Show in New York and London’s Frieze, Diana Stigter gallery is not solely dependent on the Dutch art market. This may explain why her programming is so daring and exciting. And so it is this time. Humble paperworks with typewritten texts hung on the walls unframed stay surprisingly intriguing within the clean commercial gallery space. They look like deserted attempts at art production, brutally taken from the artist’s studio.
Tompkins launched the text works with the performance, ‘More Cola Wars’, in which she frivolously recites fragments of texts in an intuitive but poetic order. As the lead singer of the former art-rock band Life Without Buildings, Tompkins is used to performing for an audience and does so with evident pleasure. ‘I have a lot of fun alone,’ you hear through the jingles. Other snatches of texts and words come along in the same disorder as the ones read on the wall papers. ‘Wait till the excitement goes down,’ for instance, is one that seemed quite philosophical. But they are not just randomly combined in the sequence they appear in. Taken from newspapers or magazines, quoted from people she meets or hears in the street, and sometimes a statement of her own, the words or text fragments are carefully composed in a manner that allows each individual observer a personal viewpoint.
Also Glasgow-based, artist Morag Keil is said to be a great admirer of the work of Tompkins. This younger artist is exhibiting a number of spontaneously expressive paintings in Grimm gallery, once the Diana Stigter gallery space. Representing the work of well-established artists such as Philip Guston, Martin Kippenberger and Max Neumann, Grimm has created fertile ground in which to support emerging artists such as Keil. Her vividly painted works on cardboard indicate the use of video as a foundation, and indeed the artist is also active in the production of video-films. As well as this, she has created performance work, organised exhibitions with fellow artists and written several reviews for the events magazine Skinny . In this respect, the charming paintings in the gallery act merely as an introduction to Keil’s practice, her activities reaching a far wider perspective than is represented here.
The work of Lucy Stein, better known in Amsterdam than the other two Scottish artists, is in this sense more characteristic. Stein, whose work is shown at the Galerie Martin van Zomeren, recently completed the De Ateliers studio programme in Amsterdam and has been selected for a number of exhibitions in the city, including a solo show in the Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam. Less appealing than the Keil’s paintings, Stein’s grotesque figures of women manifest a deeper psychological, even sociological subject, making them all the more interesting. Skilfully painted in a vigorous and colourful style, the posing women have the appearance of comic or Japanese manga characters, all with the same intoxicated gaze. The title of the show, Calorific, suggests the women are functioning as pin-up symbols without even being aware of that themselves. Whether Stein is proclaiming against the rising ‘bimbo-isation’ in Western society is left unclear. What we can be sure of is her questioning of the representation of the female figure in our post-feminist era.
Although the ‘Glasgow group’ of artists showing in the Amsterdam galleries are familiar with each others’ work, there seems to be no deep connection. Each may have inspired the other, but method and subject matter is so very different that an arranged collaboration is unlikely. What is interesting about these Scottish presentations is that they illustrate the fact that Amsterdam galleries concentrate more and more on internationally established and emerging artists, and are operative in the broader context of the contemporary arts. The three mentioned here are part of a new generation of galleries in Amsterdam injecting new energy into the city’s art scene, which has previously concentrated on local issues, and is now finally reaching out to other countries. In regard to this, the presence of two ambitious post-graduate programmes for the arts in Amsterdam, De Rijksakademie and De Ateliers, has always been an important driver to international exchange and the charisma of the city that should not be overlooked. The participants in these programmes come from all over the world, and bring knowledge and contacts, infiltrate the local art scene, take their experiences away and leave behind a regenerated artistic climate of exchange. Unfortunately, not enough funding (in the most recent distribution) or effort has been devoted to the continuation of these programmes by the Dutch Council for the Arts. Luckily, the new breed of flourishing galleries bring the once concealed traditions of international art practices in Amsterdam to the attention of a world-wide audience with lucrative results.
Nathalie Zonnenberg is a writer and curator based in Amsterdam