We zijn geen kinderen meer (We are no longer children)

Man 1 pulls out a mustachioed potato.
Man 2: What does?  What must?
Man 1: I can perform magic, sir.
Man 2: Oh yeah, whoopsie!  I am sad.
Man 1: Oh, sir, that is bad.
Man 2: Yes, that feels!
Man 1: Shall I make it magically disappear?
Man 2: Is that possible?
Man 1: And you as well.
Man 2: Ah, didn't think so!
       After: Herenleed (1971-1997)

Herenleed was an extraordinary television program from my childhood in which two figures, say a portly gentleman and an "eternal student", had long drawn-out conversations interspersed with many short silences - and this in an interior with minimal decoration or a similar landscape with dunes and sand drifts.  It was written and performed by poet/artist Armando and documentary maker Cherry Duyns; poet/performer  Johnny van Doorn aka the Selfkicker often appeared in small roles: Mother, Gnome, King ...  I don't know what that program at the time did for me or meant to me - I must have experienced its strange mix of rebelliousness and thoughtfulness as intriguing yet hermetic - but one thing is certain: it made quite an impression.  In my fantasy I can even today easily recall the allegorical characters and existential atmosphere.  Just thinking about it I get a little excited, my imagination is released.  In my mind I see abstract vistas of emotion; I hear the magical sound and experience the mysterious power of words, I taste the sweet misunderstanding of contact.

Klaas Kloosterboer and Frank Koolen have developed the exhibition that is on view here today.  KK is not the gentleman from Herenleed; a dominant and inward man who turned his dignified demeanor into his armor, nor is FK the nervous but curious young man who looks up to his companion and gets the conversation started.  FK is rather - according to Thomas Mann’s characterization of the Romantic - "a delicate child of life"; KK, on the other hand, is the man with the plan, and the guy guarding the fort.  When asked about their "first artwork", FK points to his exhibition Tropical Years (W139, Amsterdam, 2009), which he characterizes as a fake retrospective of a fictional artist.  He wants to disappear in his work, hence the interest in magic-as-craft, in disappearing tricks. KK points to a turning point in his art in around 1990 when he - and when he mentions this he looks very earnest - started making a brown painting, every day again, all the colors mixed together; the crystallization of an artist's position.

Evident in the separate conversations with the artists is the idea of a modern, Western art field; an artists-generation (think: 80s) that makes a stand against the world through the "I", or rather, through the artwork, and another young generation that, having grown up in a political reality that is as it were entirely shattered, opposes this idea of autonomy, and embraces the world in all its vitality/fluidity, squarely placing the artwork at the center of it all.  Yet it is precisely "autonomous work" that FK wants to present in this exhibition; work that is not grafted onto a context - as in most of his exhibitions/projects - but that is born from (in his words) the urge to make discoveries.  Cesare Pavese:  "The aim of all art is: wonder, or rather the teaching of wonder."  (Diary 1935-1950, May 11, 1938)

The exhibition includes a dozen small paintings based on a recent personal loss and his coming to terms with it (KK).  Written on a white canvas is a word (or two related words above each other); every word magically evokes a certain moment in the grieving process, the emotion or insight that emerges at that moment.  The entire set of words represents a whole range of emotionally laden moments, stations on a difficult road.  Melancholy, loss and powerlessness are highlighted by the sparsely placed paint traces, dots or stripes that fan out to all corners or are sometimes simply bountifully present; on one canvas, the word "weg" is almost wiped out ... [note: the word “weg” in Dutch means both "gone" and "road"] This body of works is accompanied by a number of older works, including three-dimensional objects, namely a pink suitcase, broken in two pieces, held together by a white canvas; a table covered with pinstripe fabric with openings (think: legs or sleeves) for two persons (or a giant!), - and another table covered with cheerful yellow fabric with black dots - standing on top of it is a chair covered in yellow stars fabric (think: child).  These works look like the attributes of an illusionist.  They are also abstract emblems; the visual punches/kicks create "electricity".  'Emotion recollected in tranquility', this artist is a domestic symbolist (for him, not the ecstasy or exaggerated expression of Symbolism, but its inwardness, its secret!).

FK has created two new works for the occasion.  In a video film that presents a magic contest between two Dutch Magicians, art crosses swords with magic; the perfect trick takes on the silent failure.  Frank Koolen has been exploring the field of magic for quite some time.  He observes: "A magician tries, through meticulously sophisticated routines, to banish any form of contingency from his act, total control is the motto, while the artists which I love appear to relinquish control and open themselves to chance and serendipity.  This difference between the chosen paths toward a seemingly similar end result fascinates me beyond measure." His second work is a modular beads-sculpture.  Large colored beads (30 x 20 cm) are strung together into plastic figures that stand, lie, or hang in the space. As a reference, FK cites Andre Cadere, the Romanian artist who, in the Paris of the sixties, visited openings of other artists with colored sticks under his arm and placed his artworks in their space, amidst their works, for the duration of the opening (and sometimes longer). With his art, Cadere pierced the world.  Frank Koolen rather cuddles up to the world, to its roughness, its beauty.  In a work drawing of the beads he sent to me, I can see the wondrous stringings, lobe-shaped figures, soft crouched strays.  This artist is a fantastic realist, his work hovers between the cry for freedom (autonomy!) and empathy.

One last reverie, Herenleed for one last time.  This was one of the few TV programs that - with the lingering duo walking outside in the dunes - slowed the attention of the viewer, and pulled his gaze into focus. Today I can recall, in my mind more clearly than before, the beautiful landscape as it appeared in the windows of the upper room at home, behind the television: the fields of wheat, rapeseed in bloom.  Klaas Lloosterboer and Frank Koolen perform magic with words and things, they make us look in a different way, catch with their lassos the deepest feelings, recalibrate the experience.  Why are they so good at this?  Is it because these men – despite everything – manage to remain children?

Mark Kremer
Amsterdam, spring 2017.


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