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Gogh Modern
01 September 2003



The van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam is showing until October 12th 2003 an exhibition of paintings by Vincent Van Gogh together with about 80 contemporary artworks from the Stedelijk Museum collection.

On view in the Van Gogh Museum “Gogh Modern” encompasses work by important post-war artists whose art would be inconceivable without Van Gogh's example. Paintings will be on view that reveal Van Gogh 's inspiration in terms of style and expression. In addition, a selection has been made of artists who, like their 19th-century predecessor, gave art a new direction and whose attitudes and views were nothing short of extreme.

The presentation is subdivided into four sections, each featuring a different aspect of Van Gogh's affect on contemporary art, and includes paintings, sculptures and videos by various artists and movements - from Karel Appel and Anselm Kiefer to Bruce Nauman and Andy Warhol. The public will experience just how topical Van Gogh's art has remained, and how it continues to mark contemporary art. Looking at the work of his 20th-century colleagues also refines our understanding of Van Gogh himself: what influence do his emulators exert on our perception of the original?

Colour unites many of the artists who breathed new life into Van Gogh's colour experiments. Because 19th-century conventions did not condone abstract painting, Vincent often relied on modest objects such as flowers, shoes or potatoes to try out contrasting colours or, alternately, to work 'tone-in-tone'. His successors could concentrate on pure colour without worrying about the subject. This theme is represented by the paintings of Donald Judd, Van Koningsbruggen, Brice Marden, Barnett Newman and Frank Stella, among others, and by spatial work by Dan Flavin and Elsworth Kelly.

Gesture presents the liberating effect of Van Gogh's uninhibited and free manner of painting. His very personal and often emotional style continues to inspire countless artists to this very day. Van Gogh laid down his motifs on the canvas in thick strokes. For him, the impasto technique was not only a working method, but also an expression of his conviction that ‘painting is working'. After Surrealism, Neue Sachlichkeit and neo-Classicism, Van Gogh set the example for new expressionistic movements. Many important 20th-century painters expanded on the expressive painter's gesture or even made it the very crux of their work; these include Georg Baselitz, Jean Dubuffet, Sam Francis, Kiefer, De Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock, Rainer, Antoni Tápies and the CoBrA artists.

The theme of Nature, naturally, has more to do with content than with form. Van Gogh considered himself a follower of the Realist tradition, preferring to work out of doors and strongly favouring landscapes and working peasants. His Olive orchards and Cypresses are not only representations of reality, but are also laden with symbolic meaning. This tradition was perpetuated by many artists after 1945, for example Kiefer, Kounellis, Long, Merz and Rückriem.

The section “Man” has two aspects. On the one hand, in his early work Van Gogh depicted numerous peasants and farm labourers at home or at work. He painted them with a sense of social engagement and never shied away from the sombre, impoverished or 'ugly' sides of agrarian life. This realistic tradition, the legacy of Courbet and Millet, is elaborated upon in various ways in 20th-century art, sometimes with a ‘hard' realistic view, at others with great compassion and a political conscience. Examples of this are the photographs of Nan Goldin, Rineke Dijkstra and Diane Arbus. On the other hand, this section also focuses on a group of artists who have placed their own bodies at the core of their art. They reflect the interconnection of art and life, which was so crucial for Van Gogh. Even his self-inflicted mutilation was later related to his work. Vincent has become the prototype of the artist who sacrifices everything in his creative pursuit. Working in this tradition are Marina Abramovic, Brus, Lucio Fontana, Nauman and Schwarzkogler.

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