Exclusive: Paul Laster Goes Gallery-Hopping in Amsterdam

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Recently in Amsterdam to teach DIY art workshops at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and the Sandberg Institute, we were able to periodically get away to check out the contemporary art and design scene. Although it’s smaller than over-abundant New York and London creative arts scenes, there are quality spaces showing interesting work and the walk to find them around the city’s cobblestone streets and canals, lined with old houseboats, is enchanting. A majority of the galleries are situated between Keisersgracht and Lijnbaansgrachts, in the western and southern sections of the city center. It’s all within walking distance, of sorts, but jumping on an occasional tram in between neighborhoods helps conserve energy. After the jump we offer a selection of the best and a list of the rest.

Our first stop Galerie De Expeditie was showing a familiar artist, the American Joe Scanlan, who was exhibiting fake forsythia bushes, formally constructed from yellow paper on metal rods, and a puzzle of a Hans Hoffman painting that had to be assembled by gallery visitors. Nearby, Galerie Fons Welters — a regular on the international art fair circuit — was showing drawings, photographs, and sculpture by the German artist Daniel Roth centered around an enigmatic study of the picturesque Portmeirion Pennisula in Wales.

Winding through the historic district we found Annet Gelink Gallery offering a group show, Places to Be, which referred to the place of residence of the exhibited artists, stressing the importance of the cities to their work and development. Standouts included David Malkovic, who hails from Zagreb and was showing photo collages that referenced the former economically powerful Zagreb Fair of the ’60s and ’70s, and Yael Bartana’s staged photographs of Jews and Palestinians working in harmony on a kibbutz in Tel Aviv that echo the legendary, utopian photographs of Leni and Herbert Sonnenfeld, taken in Palestine in the ’30s.

Torch, best known for its stable of imaginative, Dutch contemporary photographers — including Loretta Lux, Teun Hocks, and Ellen Kooi — had American artist Terry Rodgers’ photo-realistic paintings of decadent party scenes populated by semi-nude, fashionable young people. Supposedly staged in his studio, the pictures convey a world full of wannabes willing to become puppets in someone else’s play. Real-life characters of another sort were caught in the photographs and film shot in the streets of Tokyo by Dutch artist Martine Stig at Motive Gallery. Capturing locals in natural movements with a long lens, Stig constructs a poetic vision of a thriving metropolis.

Moving south on Prinsensgracht, we dropped into one of Amsterdam’s preeminent design shops, the Frozen Fountain, which along with the famous Droog store features the best in contemporary Dutch design, a phenomenal movement that has gathered worldwide attention. Furniture made from scrap wood by Piet Hein Eek and colorful fabric designs by Scholtens & Baijings, whose design studio we later visited, were prominently featured in the overlapping, organic arrangement of the store.

Merina Beekman’s splendid black-and-white drawings and hanging sculptures at Slewe Gallery were next on the tour. We had already seen a dynamic solo exhibition of her softly rendered depictions of Islamic children, poppy plants, and decoratively painted hands and buses at the De Pont museum of contemporary art in Tilburg and this corresponding show at her Amsterdam gallery was equally as compelling.

Heading around the corner, past some antique shops and fashion boutiques, and over a few strikingly beautiful canals, we landed at Galerie Alex Daniëls – Reflex Amsterdam, which was presenting a survey of work by the celebrated American photographer Bill Owens, best known for his uncanny images of suburbia.

A couple blocks away, there’s a strip of galleries along Lijnbaansgrachts that offers a good mix of international contemporary artists. VOUS ETES ICI was showing abstract, optical paintings by British artist Terry Hagerty and had a selection of energetic, green abstractions by Dutch painter Jos van Merendonk in the office. Next door, Lumen Travo Gallery was exhibiting American conceptual artist Dennis Adam’s Double Feature, a visual investigation that mixed stills of Jean Seberg’s character as an International Herald Tribune sales gal in the streets of Paris from the film Breathless with backgrounds with scenes of war-torn Algiers from the film Battle of Algiers. In the office, Adams reprinted 30 declassified documents from Seberg’s FBI files, which had been compiled because of her involvement with the Black Panthers, on mirrored glass that was cut to the same size as the documents.

We ended our gallery-hopping with a tour of Smart Project Space, a former pathology clinic that is being turned into a multi-use cultural center with exhibition spaces, theatre, film screening rooms, artist studios, and a fabulous restaurant, where we had dinner with friends.

Other galleries worth visiting include Galerie Diana Stigner, Galerie Paul Andriesse, 2×2 Projects, Mart House Gallery, Galerie Hof & Huyser, Ten Haaf Projects, Anna Hakkens Gallery, Galerie van Gelder, and Witzenhausen Gallery. See AKKA Exhibitions Amsterdam for more information.