Critics’ Picks

Hans Op de Beeck, The Collector’s House, 2016, mixed media, 66 x 41 x 13'.

Hans Op de Beeck, The Collector’s House, 2016, mixed media, 66 x 41 x 13'.


Hans Op de Beeck

Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg
Hollerplatz 1
April 9–September 3, 2017

In his films, drawings, dioramas, and immersive installations, Hans Op de Beeck weds a cunning compositional intelligence with a scenographer’s sleight of hand, telling stories through space. The artist reveals some of his tricks in the 2013 film Staging Silence (2), which spins an array of meditative miniature landscapes from tabletop arrangements of coffee-soaked sugar cubes, half-empty water bottles, and potatoes cut to resemble rocky coastlines. That human hands openly intervene within the frame—dei ex machina manipulating the humble elements on screen—only amplifies the sublime harmonies of the microenvironments.

The artist’s first major retrospective transforms the museum’s central two-story hall into a dimly lit village. Each of the settlement’s structures, some with tiled roofs, contains a single piece, including Staging Silence (2); Location (1), 1998, an affecting diorama of a desolate intersection, its traffic lights shifting steadily in the late evening haze, and Table (1), 2006, an after-dinner scene staged at a scale of 1.5:1, effectively returning adult viewers to the perspective of a seven-year-old child as they survey platters of cakes and pies. Visitors enter this village through The Collector’s House, 2016, a marvelous monochrome den in which trappings of wealth are reproduced in life-size plaster, calcified in mottled gray tones (save for the glossy black surface of a reflecting pool, dotted with ivory-white water lilies and a stray high heel.) Amid emblems typical of a vanitas—skulls, goblets, stodgily bound books, a stuffed peacock—emerge the less traditional motifs of soda cans, Starbucks cups, half-stubbed cigarettes, and smartphones. Sculpted figures appear as both objects and inhabitants of the interiors; a young girl tangles her fingers in a cat’s cradle of yarn, while a boy cradles blackberries in his palm. Their serenity marks the space as one of contemplation, unhindered by any suspicion of their petrified calm.