Two Exhibitions in Amsterdam


I wasn’t really interested in seeing the Tracey Emin exhibition but the Stedelijk is one of the museums I always return to and since it was there I went. I must say that seeing her work outside of London is helpful in trying to understand its meaning (if ‘meaning’ is the right term). Hers is such a ragbag of garbage, of physical and mental cast-offs (dirty pants and dirty thoughts), that it’s hard sometimes to relate to it as ‘art’ or even ‘cultural artefacts’. And yet the stripping bare of both garments and emotions is what her work is about. It’s both tragic and cheerless but it is emotive. It’s woman as victim three times over – physically, mentally and spiritually. And yet she glories in it (one of the sayings she’d embroidered in her wall hangings was ‘People love to fuck people like me.’) It’s raw, vain, callow, angry, crude, juvenile and mean spirited. But there’s also an undertone of hard-boiled commercial cynicism here, summed up by a final picture of her sitting on the floor with a big smile on her face and a bunch of money between her legs which she seems to be stuffing up her crotch.

The other exhibition was at the Tropenmuseum, another of my favourites. This was on South Africa and even though, again, I wouldn’t have gone out of my way to see it, I’m very glad I did. We know South Africa now through clichés and stories in the press. The actual people, their lives and struggles, are simply subsumed in the greater political allegory. What this exhibition tried to do was to put you inside the lives of some of the incredibly diverse people who make up this curious nation. The stories they chose have been made into little vignettes, set up as dioramas with artefacts from people’s lives, such as diaries and photos. One of these, for example, had to do with a mixed race family living in the Zulu region. The father was a photographer who had a little darkroom at home. The darkroom was reconstructed as part of the exhibit and you could go in there and see a display of his photos being developed (by means of a hidden slide projector). The space also contained furniture from their rooms and other little odds and ends that gave you a feel of their physical life. Then, reading the diaries, you got a sense of their hopes, fears and aspirations.

23 October 02