Willem de Rooij

Galerie Daniel Buchholz

“Slit or Gloved,” the title of Willem de Rooij’s recent show in Cologne, is an anagram of “Silver to Gold,” a series (created in 2009 for the Athens Biennale) of five canvases interwoven with carefully proportioned gradations of metallic silver and gold threads—a serial progression transitioning from silver to gold. In de Rooij’s new piece Vertigo’s Doll, 2010—yet another anagram of Silver to Gold—we find the same elements as in the earlier one; the anagram becomes a kind of artistic method. Vertigo’s Doll is a single canvas in a pronounced horizontal format, and its gradations from silver to gold are subtler—ten of them in all. In order to be able to distinguish the nuances of color beneath the variable light, the viewer has to walk up and down in front of the canvas to observe the work from a number of angles; light becomes a decisive factor.

For de Rooij, exhibition is itself a medium, a three-dimensional collage in space. He assembles not only his own pieces but works created in collaboration with his artistic partner Jeroen de Rijke, who died in 2006, or pieces created by other artists, as well as archival material, to form complex systems of reference. In his last show at Galerie Daniel Buchholz, “Birds in the Park,” 2007, de Rooij arranged works by various female artists—Isa Genzken, Keren Cytter, and the Dutch-Chinese fashion designer Fong Leng—in the exhibition space in a way that recalled the mix of domestic and exotic birds in a seventeenth-century painting by Dutch painter Melchior d’Hondecoeter. What was so appealing about “Slit or Gloved,” with its presentation of two new works by de Rooij, is its minimalist clarity and formal economy. One might also say its “beauty”—a topos often invoked by critics in connection with de Rijke/de Rooij’s work. Julian Heynen, for example, writes of the piece Orange, 2004, a projection of eighty-one different monochrome orange surfaces: “Thus, even this most general form of beauty is not a space apart. On the contrary, reality, with all its unpredictable facets, can penetrate into it too at any moment.”

In the series “Bouquets,” 2002– (opulent flower arrangements created in collaboration with professional florists), the tension between artistic autonomy and social reality becomes particularly hard to overlook. Whereas the composition of Bouquet I, 2002, followed the color and ornamentation of a nineteenth-century Oriental rug that de Rijke/de Rooij used in Point of Departure, 2002, for a filmic excursion into the perception of the “exotic” and the historical genre of the Dutch still life, Bouquet II, 2003, deployed an illustrated newspaper article to invoke the controversy over the 2002 Miss World contest in Nigeria and the violent riots linked to Muslim criticisms of the beauty pageant. The bouquet included in “Slit or Gloved,” Bouquet V, 2010, has no such explicit political references. Ninety-five species of flowers have been combined here to form a bouquet that is presented on a freestanding pedestal. Not a single flower is repeated in this arrangement. Yet the individual flowers are only distinguishable from one another by tiny nuances. This beautiful sculpture is a lesson in perception that also makes one curious to see what further transitions de Rooij has in store.

Astrid Wege

Translated from German by Oliver E. Dryfuss.