Going Dutch

Quinn Latimer at the twelfth Art Rotterdam

Left: Artist Melvin Moti; Arno van Roosmalen, director of Stroom Den Haag; artist Lara Almarcegui; Wim van Krimpen, former director of the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag; and artist Rob Birza. Right: Dealer Wilfried Lentz. (All photos: Quinn Latimer)

“WELL, ART AMSTERDAM IS SAID to be the most important fair in the Netherlands,” a Dutch artist who will go unnamed said to me with a wink and some mock allegiance at Art Rotterdam’s slow-simmering preview a little over a week ago. Whether he was slyly slamming the larger, older Art Amsterdam in that fairer city just an hour away, or affectionately undercutting his hometown project, was unclear, but I got his point. Situated in the oddly retro-glam Holland-America Line hall in Rotterdam’s former cruise terminal—I nearly expected to see portmanteaus emblazoned with stickers from the world’s grand hotels stacked near the entrance—the twelfth edition of Art Rotterdam was petite and startlingly regional. Seventy-one booths of mostly Belgian and Dutch galleries attended, with a few birds in from London, Frankfurt, and Cluj. Nevertheless, the mood was neither entirely self-deprecating nor provincial: A tangible anticipation stirred the misty North Sea air.

A late plane got me to the preview with only an hour left on the clock, so I quickly made my rounds, stopping in at Rotterdam dealer Wilfried Lentz’s wonderful booth of archaeology-related fare. Some faux-museological vitrines by James Beckett, their hilarious wall labels reading “Etruscan vases, assembled by the paraplegic son of a wine merchant,” hung across from a wall text that read MILDEW, though the D kept slipping, to Lentz’s horror. “I hope my artist doesn’t see this,” he laughed. (Sorry!) After a brief stop by London’s Rokeby, featuring a jumpy trio of stills by Doug Fishbone from his feature film Elmina made in Ghana’s film industry—the Ghaniwood to Nigeria’s Nollywood—I met up with artists Petra Trenkel and Maarten Janssen and we headed down the street to the art-house theater, where an afterparty was brewing.

Left: Rokeby's Beth Greenacre. Right: Frieze Projects curator Sarah McCrory and dealer Rob Tufnell with a painting by Joel Croxson.

There, local hero Joe Kisser (his handle an Anglo-by-way-of–New Jersey translation of his given name, Jeroen Kuster) took the stage in strange animal dress and announced that he would perform three songs in ten minutes—“Maybe eleven if things don’t go right.” His songs sampled The Simpsons and the style of 1990s-era Dutch techno called gabber, and touched on Whitney Houston: “I love her. I have everything of hers . . . Houston, we have a problem.” Afterward, over a beer, I told him I loved her too—I might have related a childhood camping trip in which her cassette tape was thrown out of the car by an irate parent—and Kuster looked thoroughly perplexed: “I just used her name for that Houston reference.” Alas. Later, trams closed, I headed home in true Rotterdam style: on the back of a bike. We rode over the sail-like Erasmusbrug and up to the Hilton, where a blur of artists and dealers were enjoying a nightcap. Ron Mandos was beaming about his sell-out booth, while Amalia Pica toasted her win of the Illy Prize. I paused and then made my exit: There were three more nights where this came from.

My late-night bicycle tour of the city proved prescient for the next day, which began at Rem Koolhaas’s firm OMA, where partners Reinier de Graaf and Ellen van Loon showed a small group of us, including Art Rotterdam director Fons Hof, models of the buildings underway in Rotterdam—the firm’s first in two decades. “Nineteen years and nothing,” de Graaf said, raising his eyebrows and elucidating how the 2008 financial crisis brought building costs down, paradoxically making insanely expensive projects like OMA’s only slightly less prohibitive. Inspired, I stopped by the Netherlands Architecture Institute to see a screening of Kutluğ Ataman’s 2009 film Journey to the Moon, occasioned by his winning the European Cultural Foundation’s Routes Princess Margriet Award for advancing cultural diversity in Europe. The film, a faux documentary limning modernism and its discontents, the space race, and a 1950s Turkish village, deserved the award in spades, but not just because of its politics: It’s fabulous.

A drizzly evening of more awards awaited: At RAiR, curator Leo Delfgaauw gleaned a mix tape of works by Rotterdam artists in residence over the past decade, including one by Susanne Kriemann, for “RAiR#3 Guest House.” Then, after an extended repartee about track pants with artist Karl Orton, which fit the casual setting to a tee, we headed over to TENT, the space just downstairs from the Witte de With, where four Rotterdam artists—Otto Egberts, Lara Almarcegui, Jasper Niens, and Aji V.N.—were competing for the biannual Dolf Henkes Award. At €20,000, it’s no joke. “What is the Turner Prize, £40,000?” someone asked me, alarmed. Joep van Lieshout of Atelier Van Lieshout (pimped out in a purple suit, marigold shirt, and creeping smile) milled about as the crowd surged. After some low-key performances, the lovely Almarcegui—showing with Ellen de Bruijne Projects at the fair—won. Dazed, she ran about with a bouquet of flowers while everyone clinked beer bottles.

Left: Artist Philippine Hoegen and NAI curator Saskia Van Stein. Right: Dealer Christina Wilson and Liste director Peter Blaeuer.

At the fair the next day I ran into Liste director Peter Blaeuer at Christina Wilson’s booth (filled with excellent works by Vanessa Billy and Alicja Kwade), and Sarah McCrory, Frieze Projects curator, at Rob Tufnell’s space. It seemed to be less a matter of sniffing out the fair competition than of catching up with friends. Though collectors such as Jean Bernard and Erika Hoffmann were present, the fair was quiet, a reprieve before the night ahead, which included a stop at Duende, where the show “Beside Itself” played Minimalist sculpture by Martijn Hendriks against Minimalist painting by Bas van den Hurk. A lovely pairing, but I hurried off in the downpour to the Museum Boijmans van Beuningen to meet critic Vivian Rehberg and Dutch artist Gabriel Lester, whose opening had brought in the masses.

The museum was thronged. As I placed my wet jacket in a locker, nearly dropping a two-euro coin in, Lester interfered. “Don’t tip the machine!” he said in mock horror, dropping a smaller coin in. After a look at his knockout show of films and objects, we swept up our stuff and made our way to the party, where I ran into artist Philippine Hoegen and Netherlands Architecture Institute curator Saskia Van Stein on the dance floor, their white shirts crisp against the fluorescent youth flailing behind. We had had dinner the previous week in Basel, where Hoegen’s collaborator Banu Cennetoglu opened a show at the Kunsthalle. Now we were here, dancing against the North Sea storm outside. Lester’s command rang in my head: “Don’t tip the machine!” It seemed a weirdly appropriate banner to wave over the art fair itself, a strange machine that one tips, and tips, and tips, until one’s pockets are empty and it is time to go home.

Left: Artist Joe Kisser. Right: Artist Gabriel Lester (far right) and architect Martine Jetske Vledder (center).

Left: Dealer Ellen de Bruijne. Right: Lara Almarcegui and TENT curator Mariette Dolle.

Left: Museum Boijmans afterparty. Right: Artists Petra Trenkel and Maarten Janssen.