Critics’ Picks

Willem de Rooij, Vertigo’s Doll, 2010, unbleached cotton canvas, metal threads, 4 x 14’.

Willem de Rooij, Vertigo’s Doll, 2010, unbleached cotton canvas, metal threads, 4 x 14’.


Willem de Rooij

Kunstverein München
Galeriestraße 4
February 19–April 15, 2012

It may seem strange at first, but Willem de Rooij’s current exhibition “Untilted” irresistibly recalls the paradoxes of motion devised by Zeno of Elea. This Greek philosopher’s “arrow paradox” argues that at any instant in time, an arrow in flight occupies a fixed position and does not essentially change, and therefore that motion is impossible. De Rooij’s new works appear motivated by a variation on this paradox. For years, the Dutch artist has been fascinated with referentiality, with the dilemma of a contemporary art world awash in associations, ideas, and contexts from which no artist can escape. Yet de Rooij sees this as all the more reason to try. In 2005, for instance, he and his then collaborator Jeroen de Rijke made the film Mandarin Ducks, so chock-full of allusions that there was hardly any room left for meaning.

In “Untilted,” de Rooij explores the opposite end of the spectrum—not fullness, but emptiness. The exhibition consists of seven tapestries, each with a warp composed of a single type of thread and a weft that changes continuously in color or texture. This results in weavings such as Black to Brown, 2011, in which the black on the left gradually transforms into solid brown on the right, or Vertigo’s Doll, 2010, in which the cotton on the left transmutes into gold. The work’s ineffable quality is enhanced by de Rooij’s titles, which are often anagrams of the processes shown: For example, Vertigo’s Doll is derived from “silver to gold.”

For the viewer, the experience is bizarre; everything about these pieces slips through your fingers. Is the subject beauty? Modernism? The empty canvas as a carrier of meaning? In the end you realize that de Rooij, like Zeno, is chiefly attempting to capture a crucial paradox. He strives toward static, unchanging images that nonetheless remain in motion, and in “Untilted,” he is remarkably successful.

Translated from Dutch by David McKay.