The Traveller – A Visual Journey by Alexander Ramselaar
TENT, Rotterdam, Netherlands
With ‘The Traveller – A Visual Journey by Alexander Ramselaar’, TENT offers its small ground-floor gallery space to a range of contemporary art works from the private collection of the Rotterdam-based real estate investor turned art advocate Alexander Ramselaar. This self-curated sampling of 15 paintings, sculptures and photographs collected over the past decade is meant to provide a view of the real and metaphysical journeys that art collecting has presented to Ramselaar. Many of the works assembled here (by Rosella Biscotti, Pieter Hugo, Esther Tielemans and Guy Tillim, among others) feature a concomitant musing written by Ramselaar, which apparently originated from his diary. Although the works are presented like a group show in a contemporary art gallery, the pairing of text and private possession places the viewer in the role of an awkward guest, wandering through a repositioned living room. The inescapable presence of Ramselaar, bolstered by his heavy-handed writings on childhood, globalization and the art world (‘Is buying art irrational and individual?’), threatens to silence the works completely.
Drastic cuts in public funding for the arts in the Netherlands over the last year and a half have made museums and art spaces more dependent on the financial support of private donors and collectors. But where are the boundaries? Ramselaar, for his part, has stepped in to fill the gap by creating a foundation for the support of young Dutch artists, as well as a blog for TENT entitled ‘State of the Art’. While private collectors have always played an integral role in the exhibition practice of museums and galleries, they have largely stayed behind the scenes – with placards indicating their loans, generosity and acquisition power. The fusing of collector and curator in this show, however, does not use the art as a platform for exploring the practice and politics of collecting, but rather separates the works from their artistic, historical and social moorings. ‘I only become interested when the image transcends limitations of the medium and transports me to another world,’ Ramselaar writes to accompany a Pieter Hugo photograph of young Nigerians (Chika Onyejekwe, Junior Ofokansi, Thomas Okafor, Enugu, Nigeria, 2009). The lack of critical self-reflection is galling; the works only operate here within the constraints of Ramselaar’s worldview.
More puzzling is TENT’s total lack of critique in regard to the role of the private world in the public space of the gallery. The intention to make the private world of the collector accessible to the public has the potential for new territory to explore ownership, the art world and its economies. Though this exhibition is aware of the new terrain for private investment in the arts, TENT seems to have missed an opportunity to enter into a dialogue about what this new role might look like. The naïveté that accompanies this exhibition, and the avoidance of the potentially tricky conflict of interest in handing over creative power whole hog to a private collector is at times confounding, as is evident in the text on the TENT website, which reads, ‘…it is remarkable that private initiators such as Alexander Ramselaar are increasingly seeking the context of the art world. What motivates him?’ The more pressing question is what truly motivated TENT, a space committed to creative social engagement in Rotterdam and the world at large, to host this show? Ultimately ‘The Traveller’ should give the viewer pause to consider the future of public arts in the Netherlands.
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