Willem de Rooij

Willem de Rooij's permanent installation for Bentheim Castle, Residual, features a transparent display case with one of Ruisdael's paintings of the castle, situated in Germany near the Dutch border. In addition to seeing the painting, both as image and as object, one sees the technical equipment that normally remains hidden. In many ways this work recalls Michael Asher's projects of the 1970s, it does not intervene in a recognized gallery or museum. More than functioning as a rather problematic retro-version of Institutional Critique, the piece announces a potential space for art; the intention is to turn Willem de Rooij's project into the starting point for an artist-in-residence project, with young artists being enabled to produce and exhibit in situ. 

Exhibiting a Ruisdael painting at the site depicted on the painting, and exhibiting the exhibition of this work in a way that foregrounds its status as material artefact in a transparent case full of visible machinery, Residual can be seen to reflect on the relation between physical picture and immaterial image, and between thing and network.  In my essay for the accompanying publication, I move from Barthes to Simmel and from Victor Stoichita to Craig Owens in order to analyse Residual's take on both seventeenth-century and contemporary "visual economies." From the final part of the essay:

'In the pre-industrial seventeenth-century Dutch Republic, painting showcased and 'doubled' the accumulation of wealth derived from Dutch mercantile capitalism. In the post-industrial Netherlands of the early twentieth century, visual production and the 'creative industries' are often presented as a partial replacement of industries that have moved overseas. Instead of manufacturing televisions or producing steel, the Netherlands now exports TV formats and fashion. In 2011 it became apparent that 'difficult' contemporary art is not part of this, as the Dutch government relentlessly cut funding for a number of crucial institutions, including the Rijksakademie, which Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij attended. New art isn’t as profitable as old art. The Rijksmuseum is hawking its wares even at Schiphol Airport, with the Rijksmuseum Schiphol, where Ruisdael and d’Hondecoeter are regularly featured. 

"Of course Willem de Rooij’s practice is implicated in the current political-economic constellation. How could it be otherwise? De Rooij is a producer of surplus value through 'immaterial labour'; his work is part of the 'culturalized' economy. However, compared with blockbuster shows with readymade themes and famous names, this practice is too inefficient and marginal for the economistic Dutch cultural policy, which uses 'subsidised art' as a populist whipping boy alongside others, creating enemies for its perceived clientele of 'hardworking Dutchmen'. In such a situation, art can only be framed in two ways: either it delivers an unproblematic message of “Dutchness” or it is immediately and spectacularly successful as a cultural commodity. Preferably both. While the Rijksmuseum is hawking its blue-chip Dutch wares in its overdesigned box inserted into the bustling airport, Willem de Rooij’s counter-space at Bentheim castle – on the margins of the old water-merchandise complex, on the long train line that connects Berlin to Amsterdam – foregrounds its own properties and contradictions, and those of the object and the subjects that it contains."

This small essay is part of my "thingness" research project (as are recent texts on design, transparency, and on artists such as Daan van Golden and Stan Douglas). I hope to intensify this strand of research and develop what are so far mere sketches once the History in Motion book (which should see the light of day this fall) is out of the way. 

Residual will be inaugurated on May 4 as part of the raumsichten exhibition project. The book is published by Walther König and can be ordered at amazon.de.