Centraal Museum Utrecht curates the old with the new for the exhibition ‘Double Act’

Curator Bar Rutten brings together his love for 17th century painting and new media artwork into a unique exhibition, in a significant showcase of the Kramlich Collection.

by Shraddha NairPublished on : Dec 18, 2022

Centraal Museum in Utrecht, the Netherlands, is presenting an exhibition titled Double Act, which brings together iconic works of contemporary art from the Kramlich Collection with classical 17th century Dutch masterpieces from the museum’s collection. This juxtaposition of works is a whimsical and playful one, a curatorial direction that encourages us as viewers to consider the simultaneous continuous evolution and timelessness of art.

Double Act is the first major showcase of the Kramlich Collection outside of the United States. Here is a brief history of this remarkable and noteworthy collection - Richard and Pamela Kramlich are American art collectors who have built one of the most significant collections of art over the past four decades. Their patronage of new media art has been of important influence in the conservation, preservation, and education of new media art as a movement. The Kramlich Collection includes over 450 works of art, a mix of photographs, paintings, drawings, video installations and sculptures, from more than 200 different artists from across the world. This oeuvre includes key works from artists like Marina Abramovic, Joseph Beuys, Steve McQueen, Nam June Paik, Andy Warhol, and Joan Jonas including others.

Artworks by Steve McQueen and RoelantSaverij in dialogue | Double Act | STIRworld
Artworks by Steve McQueen and Roelant Saverij in dialogue Image: Gert Jan van Rooij; Courtesy of Centraal Museum Utrecht

Double Act presents a total of 46 artworks, of which 23 are paintings and artefacts from the 17th century, and the rest are selected from the Kramlich Collection. These include four major multichannel video installations by Bill Viola, Richard Mosse and Bruce Nauman; three single channel projections by Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Takashi Murata, Marina Abramovic and Steve McQueen; a light box by McQueen and a photo by Richard Moss. We spoke with Bart Rutten, Artistic Director of Centraal Museum Utrecht, to learn about the motivations, challenges and necessary juggling that comes with curating an exhibition like this one.

Democritus, 1628, Hendrick ter Brugghen (left) and OK, OK, OK, 1990, by Bruce Naumann (right) on view | Double Act | STIRworld
L to R: Democritus, 1628, Hendrick ter Brugghen; OK, OK, OK, 1990, by Bruce Naumann on view Image: Gert Jan van Rooij; Courtesy of Centraal Museum Utrecht

When asked what inspired him to bring such contrasting works into the same space, Rutten says, “In a way it is very simple: my love for video art and 17th century painting. Too often these disciplines are kept apart, but if you look carefully there is so much in common. The way they depict and reflect on human emotions, for example. As a viewer there is a lot to recognise for yourself in both.” The visual and aesthetic differences between new media and 17th century art are obvious and stark. Moving versus static, quality of colour, and impact of lighting are just a few factors. Rutten takes advantage of the incongruous nature of the pair, and places works together that highlight ideological similarities and visual dissimilarities. “The works deal with themes that are still very relevant today, such as war, emancipation, mortality, self-reflection and colonisation. What links the exhibited works above all are the human stories. They depict emotions, each with the techniques and technological media of their time,” he mentions.

Bar Rutten takes us through Double Act Video: Rento van Duren; Courtesy of Centraal Museum Utrecht

The exhibition is a reminder that as we move through time, the essence of the human experience is consistent. The two groups of works are set poles apart by their place in history and the materials employed in their making. To put such diverse works together in the same space is a trailblazing and daring concept, one which could easily be entirely unpleasant to the viewer. However, this exhibition draws attention to the similarities - the manipulation of light and shadow, the intimate expression of human emotion and the struggle between individual desires and societal norms.

Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla on view at Double Act | Double Act | STIRworld
Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla on view at Double Act Image: Gert Jan van Rooij; Courtesy of Centraal Museum Utrecht

Rutten pairs the old and new with intention, building discourse through visual prompts. He tells us, “Some pairings are more formal, for example the silverware next to Marata’s video Untitled (silver) where you can compare the play with light. Others are more psychological like the brilliant paintings of Heraclitus and Democritus from Hendrik ter Brugghen in the room of Bruce Nauman’s Raw Material OK OK OK. Or more socially engaged: Marina Abramovic’s Art must be beautiful, artist must be beautiful next to paintings of lustful woman painted with and for a dominant male gaze.”

A portrait of curator Bar Rutten | Double Act | STIRworld
Curator Bar Rutten Image: Koos_Breukel; Courtesy of Centraal Museum Utrecht

The curatorial vision of this exhibition is not one that is frequently seen. The contiguity of these collections can be bizarre and jarring to even the most discerning eye - a mark of powerful artistic expression. Rutten shares, “I hope they will create memories of something they have never seen before. The first responses on the exhibition show that people are a bit puzzled, but in a good way. They have to think about what they saw and actively interpret. It is very inviting, but also out of the comfort zone for many. When you made it to the end of the parcours your mind is set differently.”

The exhibition Double Act is on view until January 15, 2023, in Centraal Museum Utrecht.

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