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Issue 234

What Lies Beneath ‘Strange Surfaces’?

A show at Diez Gallery, Amsterdam, unites work by four artists around ideas of materiality and texture

BY Jim van Geel in EU Reviews , Exhibition Reviews | 07 FEB 23

Peter Brock’s painting series ‘The Limited Sphere’ (2020–ongoing) – currently on view in ‘Strange Surfaces’, the latest in a string of strong shows curated by Diego Diez, who founded Diez Gallery in 2022 – reminds me of a 2022 Business Insider video detailing the cultivation process of South Sea pearls: skilled workers surgically implant a nucleus inside a cultured oyster, causing it to react and produce layers of iridescent nacre around the nucleus to protect itself against the intrusion. The process takes years, and many of the oysters die before the pearls are fully formed, which further drives up the cost.

Arto Rta, Wash, 2022, acrylic on canvas, 46 × 35 cm. Courtesy: the artist and diez, Amsterdam

Brock creates these striking works using a unique approach of repeatedly pouring thin layers of aqua-resin over aluminium panels, adding pigments, oil and graphite before sanding down the surface layers after drying. As a result, the surfaces of these paintings have the appearance of a cultured pearl, with circular shapes, mesmerizing sheens and densely layered exteriors while maintaining a stark and formal quality, with parts of the aluminium still visible. 

‘Strange Surfaces’ also contains four works from Isabelle Andriessen’s ‘Cryo-rite’ series (2021). All are similar in form and texture: smooth, biomorphic, bone-coloured, c-shaped ceramic objects hung on the walls, their surfaces revealing a crackling of nickel sulphate. However, one of the works is distinguished from the other three by the addition of two metal hoses protruding from the wall and a connecting aluminium appendix. The aluminium appears to sweat as a cooled liquid is pumped through the pipes and condenses on its surface. Here, the interplay between the sterile concrete of the former courtroom that houses the gallery and Andriessen’s almost-living sculptures is disorienting, lending an eerie energy to the space enhanced by the work’s alien appearance. 

Isabelle Andriessen, Cryo-rite, 2021, ceramic, nickel sulphate, stainless steel, aluminium, epoxy, water cooler, python pump, 112 × 45 × 51 cm. Courtesy: the artist and diez, Amsterdam

The smallest of Arto Rta’s three acrylic-on-canvas paintings, Wash (2022), is the first artwork visitors encounter on entering the gallery. Despite drawing on a palette of lavenders, soft pinks, mauves and light browns, the piece has a menacing quality in that the surface of thinly applied, pastel-coloured paints dominates the deep-green background. The standout of Rta’s works, This Gourmand Black Hole Eats One Sun a Day (2022), comprises similar fleshy tones. Yet, despite the beauty of the work, I couldn’t shake my sense of unease as I peered into this uncanny and gooey universe which feels strangely sexual but far from sexy.

Three works by Elza Sîle – Sushi Set Camouflage, Lush Wheat Star and Black G.O.D. Bonfire (all 2023) – produced from acrylic and gelatin on coated plaster bandage, are slightly awkwardly stacked against each other on a piece of AstroTurf on the gallery floor. As a result, Sîle’s contribution feels somewhat left out of the conversation between the works presented on the walls. The positioning does these works – and the overall conception of the exhibition – a disservice, especially since Sîle’s delicate surfaces, more than any other in the show, exude a welcome fragility.

Elza Sîle, Black G.O.D Bonfire, 2023, acrylic and gelatin on coated plaster bandage, 55 × 66 cm. Courtesy: the artist and diez, Amsterdam

The press release for ‘Strange Surfaces’ details how Diez developed the show with a focus on the ‘specific materiality that is crucial to each of these artists’ work and tried to present the works in a way that lets [them] speak to each other’. Overall, ‘Strange Surfaces’ succeeds in creating an intimate yet powerful conversation – particularly between the works of Andriessen, Brock and Rta – which highlights the unique ability of surfaces to simultaneously reveal yet conceal the true picture of what lies beneath. After all, it is the nacre of the cultured pearl that creates its value, rather than the implanted nucleus.

Strange Surfaces’ is at Diez Gallery, Amsterdam, until February 26

Main image: Peter Brock, The Limited Sphere, 2021, oil and graphite on aqua-resin on aluminum panel, 60.1 × 76.2 cm. Courtesy: the artist and diez, Amsterdam

Jim van Geel is a curator and writer based in Amsterdam. He is currently public programme coordinator at the Rijksakademie.