Featured in
Issue 214

Willem de Rooij Finds Complexity Underrated

Ahead of his exhibition at Portikus, Frankfurt, the Berlin-based artist answers our questionnaire

BY Willem de Rooij in Interviews , Questionnaires | 26 OCT 20

Willem de Rooij, Negative Flag, 2020, from the project Four Flags, Amsterdam. Courtesy: the artist; photograph: Ernst van Deursen

What was the first work of art you loved?

In my grandparents’ study hung Isaac Israëls’s 1930 portrait of my great-grandfather, the pedagogue and educational reformer Rommert Casimir. He was almost two metres tall and appears somewhat stern in photographs. But, in this portrait, he looks mild and thoughtful, like his daughter: my grandmother.

What is underrated? 


What is the most important book you’ve read lately?

The catalogue that accompanied Sung Tieu’s beautiful exhibitions at Haus der Kunst in Munich and Nottingham Contemporary, Oath Against Minimalism (2020), designed by Dan Solbach. Throughout the book, the colour black is replaced with silver. I’m also reading Anton de Kom, who was a Surinamese anti-colonial activist and author. His seminal 1934 text Wij slaven van Suriname (We Slaves of Suriname) was recently reissued by The Black Archives in Amsterdam. Their co-founder, the anthropologist and activist Mitchell Esajas, wrote a new introduction.

What surprises people about you?

I’m a dyslexic who owns thousands of books.

What do you like to do when you’re alone?

I’m an artist – I work!

Who do you miss?

Jeroen de Rijke would have turned 50 on 9 October this year. Our collaboration began in the early 1990s, during our studies at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie in Amsterdam, where he taught me more than anyone. Together we formed the artist duo De Rijke/De Rooij, until he passed away while researching future projects in Takoradi, Ghana, in 2006. I miss him every day.

Willem de Rooij is an artist. He teaches at the Städelschule, Frankfurt, Germany, Rijksakademie, Amsterdam, the Netherlands, and Berlin Program for Artists, Germany. He lives in Berlin, Germany.