Fransje Killaars

Galerie De Expeditie

IN THE MID-90'S, Dutch artist Fransje Killaars moved from painting to work with textiles, often completely transforming gallery spaces with lushly colored wall curtains, carpets, and cushions on the floor. Another series of installations consisted of metal-frame bunk beds draped with colored veils, creating sensuous, diaphanous color-spaces. In her latest show, “Bedspreien en rookgordijn” (Bedspreads and smoke curtain, all works 2000), Killaars presented double beds that were entirely covered with brightly hued bedspreads, designed by the artist and woven in India. These bedspreads could be purchased individually, but the two rows of beds also transformed the gallery into a large color composition of which floor, walls, and bedspreads were all part.

The colors of these bedspreads are arranged in grid patterns; the lines that form the grid are in one color, while the rectangles in between the grids are in one or several others. The combinations vary from the understated to the electric; from harmonies pleasing to the eye to contrasts that hit you like a hammer. Killaars's cunning as a colorist shows in the way in which she capitalizes on the fact that tile bedspreads are double-woven (i.e., they consist of two inseparable woven layers). Because the colors are arranged in different ways in the two layers, and because the underlying layer always shows through a bit, the hues of these bedspreads become much richer. The top of one of the works has a black grid that frames purple and lemon-colored fields; because the bottom layer beneath those fields is black, there is a somewhat dark, brooding quality to the colors on top, for all their brightness.

While it may seem bizarre to discuss a bedspread as if it were a Rothko, Killaars's work demands it. Her intent is not to ridicule the pretensions of abstract art by pointing to its decorative side, as so many artists have done in recent decades, but to integrate her experience with abstract painting into a more down-to-earth practice. These bedspreads are like paintings in disguise, and they are far more successful than they would be if hung on the gallery walls with a smug air of cultural importance.

Killaars topped off her installation with the result of her participation in the artist-in-residence program at a Dutch mental institution: She took hundreds of cigarette butts she had collected from the patients, many of whom were fanatical smokers, and strung them like beads onto red and orange threads, thus forming a “smoke curtain” (or smoke screen, as the more common translation of the Dutch word rookgordijn would be). One might see the work as a gentle criticism of the romanticism inherent in the “collaborations” of some contemporary artists with mental patients. On a more sensuous level, a gentle smell of tobacco emanated from the work and permeated the space. Of course, there is also an irony combining the cigarette butts with the beds: After all, we are often reminded by gruesome press reports how dangerous it is to smoke in bed. But then it's hard to imagine anyone wanting to smoke while lying on these bedspreads that infuse the commonplace with such splendor.

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