Wijnanda Deroo: Rijksmuseum @Robert Mann

JTF (just the facts): A total of 20 color photographs, framed in white, and hung against white walls in the two room gallery space. All of the works are chromogenic dye coupler prints, made between 2004 and 2013. Each image is available in two sizes: 36×43 and 16×20, in all-inclusive editions of 10. There are 10 large prints and 10 small prints on display. A monograph of this body of work was published by Nai010 Publishers (here) in 2013. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: With nearly 125 years of use and countless architectural additions under its belt, the venerated Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam (the national museum of the Netherlands) closed in 2004 for what would become a decade long renovation and modernization. During that ten year span of effort, Wijnanda Deroo was allowed to visit the work in progress at regular intervals, making photographs that capture the transitional states of the extensive project, from the initial emptying of the galleries, to the massive demolition and reconstruction tasks, and ultimately to the careful reinstallation of the priceless collections.

Deroo has built her photographic career on making nuanced pictures of empty interiors, so this particular subject is in many ways a perfect fit for her artistic eye. Like Robert Polidori’s images of Versailles during its ongoing renovations, Deroo’s photographs document the grand spaces of the museum in unexpectedly unfinished silence, with construction debris and random tools (ladders, sanders, industrial vacuums, and the like) strewn through otherwise gloriously vaulted spaces and unmovable murals and large sculptures left to mutely oversee the changing architectural details.

Most of Deroo’s photographs of the galleries are meticulously squared off, looking straight down corridors or lining up passageways into strict, clean geometries. In the earliest images (from 2004), the rooms have been emptied, blank colored walls (sometimes surprisingly unpainted where a large painting had hung for a long period of time) and empty vitrines patiently awaiting the next installation. Just a year or two later, the interiors have become rough construction sites, with exposed brick, mud, plank floors, and ubiquitous dust so thick it has become tracked — a long extension cord snakes down a stripped hallway, while stacks of bricks are neatly piled underneath a gracefully ribbed ceiling.

By 2012, the galleries were starting to be reinstalled, with furniture draped with cloth covers and newly rehung paintings protected by bubble wrap or tape reinforced plastic sheeting filling the rooms. These images are full of odd juxtapositions: classic Dutch portraits with ruffled collars flanked by a pair of empty glass vitrines and a shiny metal rolling tool cabinet, and regal gilt frames staged with a metal ladder and a stack of flat empty platforms. Others are reduced to Minimalist exercises, where the open rectangle of a door is the only adornment in an otherwise flat wall.

What separates Deroo’s empty interiors from those of Candida Höfer and other documenters of refined architectural grandiosity is that her formally composed spaces still feel inhabited and personal, the invisible occupants having seemingly moved away moments before the click of the shutter. Whether it is in the gentle fall off the light or the slightly off kilter arrangement of left behind props, she finds visual subtleties and mysteries that draw us into stories, making a room more than just its defined space and contents.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The 36×43 prints are $5000 each, while the 16×20 prints are $3500 each. Deroo’s work has little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

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Read more about: Wijnanda Deroo, Robert Mann Gallery, nai010 Publishers

One comment

  1. Pete /

    Whenever I see the flat planes and exact horizontals of ‘documenters of refined architectural grandiosity’ I end up longing for badly crooked pictures

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