Rob Scholte

Museum Boymans-van Beuningen

In the foreword to the catalogue of this exhibition, Wim Crouwel refers to the more than 50 works on display here as constituting a retrospective. The term seems both appropriate and incongruous in discussing Scholte’s work. On the one hand, a retrospective simply comprises a survey of work from a particular period of time. Yet Scholte has produced a wide-ranging body of work that delineates a number of histories. His references are both personal and art historical; they are directed toward the mediation of traditional approaches through the processes of mass communication. The paintings present a viewpoint that is weighted in irony, as well as a strong sense of spontaneity and paradox. Each reference to painting is matched by a reference to the display and disposition of the same. This is a retrospective in which history is collapsed, in which art sits uncomfortably in a post-Conceptualist void.

Unlike the work of artists such as Jeff Koons and Haim Steinbach, which focuses on commodity fetishism, Scholte’s art is based on differentiating between the contemporary object and its referent. His works based on Manet’s Olympia, such as Utopia, 1986, constitute a series of displacements. An artist’s wooden instructional doll takes the place of the prostitute. The maid becomes the caricatured figure of a black servant bearing a tray. These changes imply the mutability of the original work’s arrangement of pictorial elements.

Appropriation, for Scholte, is no dead end: it opens up a series of possibilities for reinscribing meaning. Like the title of one of his rug pieces, Faites vos jeux (Make your bets, 1988), it propels notions of history and development into the world of chance. There are no sacred cows—only good bets. Reproduktie verplicht (Reproduction obliges, 1986) makes these strategies even clearer. Over a painting of two cherubs, Scholte places a set of color bars. A sentence at the bottom reads, “These colors have been selected as representative of those inks commonly used in photomechanical reproduction.” The artist blithely superimposes the classical and the commercial, appropriation upon appropriation; even his Zelfportret (Self portrait, 1988) consists of a large copyright symbol.

Scholte’s brand of perpetual displacement extends to the catalogue—a representation of the exhibition at one remove. The catalogue resembles a coloring book, and is made up of short commentaries and reviews of Scholte’s work. Criticism here represents a certain type of validation, one that helps determine how the works are represented. The paintings, their historical and contemporary references, whatever is written about them—all these factors combine to produce one text. On the inside cover is a ranking of the 100 best young artists, which lists, in Billboard fashion, information such as year of birth, previous ranking, cost of works, country, and gallery. From Enzo Cucchi, clocking in at #1 (up from #5 in 1984), to Christa Näher in the 100th slot, the art world is perfectly incorporated into a commodified package.

Perhaps the term “retrospective” here might be replaced by “greatest hits.” Always a surefire marketing strategy in the world of music, these collections require a certain amount of complicity on the part of the listener, since it is the listener’s memory that is being tapped. For Scholte, with his labyrinth of references and his insistence on situating his work as commodity, this complicity is crucial. Without it, the hits become misses, fired into an ahistorical void.

Michael Tarantino