By MARTHA SCHWENDENER Published: August 6, 2009 Lees verder ...
The Dutch controlled Manhattan for only a few decades before the British took over in 1664, but their influence has lingered for centuries. After all, the Netherlands in the 17th century was a cultural melting pot, and the Dutch policy of liberalism, in trade as well as religion, has been seen as a fundamental reason for New York’s cosmopolitanism and economic success.
Foam Fotografiemuseum Amsterdam and Robert Mann Gallery
In Hendrik Kerstens’s “Bag,” a portrait of his daughter as a 17th-century Dutch housemaid uses a plastic bag to mimic a lace hood. Multimedia Audio Slide Show ...
“Dutch Seen: New York Rediscovered,” organized by Kathy Ryan, who is director of photography for The New York Times Magazine, takes the old Dutch-New York connection and runs with it. The show, at the Museum of the City of New York (which is presenting it in collaboration with Foam Fotografiemuseum in Amsterdam), is part of NY400, a series of exhibitions and events commemorating the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s voyage on the Half Moon, financed by the Dutch East India Company. (Never mind that Hudson was being paid to find a shortcut to Asia; the Dutch liked it here well enough to stay a while.)
For the exhibition, Ms. Ryan recruited 13 contemporary Dutch photographers to rediscover New York through the lens of the “classical tradition.” It’s not the classical tradition of photography she’s referring to, however. Instead it’s the golden age of Dutch painting, which coincided with the initial “discovery” of New York — artists like Rembrandt, Vermeer and Frans Hals. “Let’s just assume the ghosts of those three men sit on all Dutch shoulders,” Ms. Ryan says in the show’s catalog.
The Dutch painting-photography nexus is exploited with sly humor by Hendrik Kerstens, whose staged portraits of his grown daughter mimic canvases by the Dutch triumvirate. In one photograph with a brooding, dark background Mr. Kerstens’s daughter wears a simple white head covering, like a 17th-century housemaid; in another an elaborate, bourgeois-lady affair. The titles give the jokes away: the first is a “Napkin”; the second a plastic grocery “Bag” shaped to look like a lace hood.
Humor also informs Jaap Scheeren’s portraits of Hudson and Peter Stuyvesant, the director general of New Netherland. Hudson, who was cast adrift in a lifeboat in the Canadian Arctic in 1611 after his crew mutinied, is shown as a hapless gray-haired gentleman wrapped in a plain brown blanket. Stuyvesant’s stand-in is photographed below the waist in printed Bermuda shorts, highlighting his famous peg leg. In a photograph that alludes to the colonial fur trade, Mr. Scheeren bought a stuffed beaver on eBay and photographed it on an East Village roof.
Landscape, another important Dutch genre, is covered by Misha de Ridder, who photographed wetlands, beaches and forests that would have supported the 17th-century Dutch poet Jacob Steendam’s claims for New Amsterdam as an Eden with pure air and abundant resources. Mr. de Ridder’s moody photographs of wooded thickets and crashing surf seem more like 19th-century Romantic takes on landscape, however, than the placid Dutch variety. (For a 17th-century touchstone, check out Ruisdael’s “View of the Town of Alkmaar” in the companion exhibition, “Amsterdam/New Amsterdam,” down the hall.)
One of the most satisfying series produced for the show is Wijnanda Deroo’s photographs of New York restaurant interiors. Ms. Deroo upholds the great tradition of Dutch interiors, but in her own way. She is a vivid colorist whose images of Tavern on the Green in Central Park, Milon Indian restaurant in the East Village and Papaya Dog in Midtown showcase their wild, garish décor and remind you of Dutch industrial designers who favor similar retina-burning hues.
Other series are not so satisfying. Morad Bouchakour and Arno Nollen both contributed street photographs — that is, images of people, presumably New Yorkers, taken on the streets of the city. Mr. Nollen started the project looking for evidence of “Dutchness” in passers-by, but quickly gave up. His resulting grid of uniformly photographed, close-up faces is unremarkable.
Mr. Bouchakour’s photographs, installed in a casual salon style, include lots of types and characters: the wizened Italian-American, the proud Irishman, an industrious Orthodox Jew, a young man with an upside-down cross tattooed inexplicably on his cheek. But when you’re trawling the same territory as Diane Arbus and Garry Winogrand, it’s a tough sell.
Hellen van Meene works in the shadow of a contemporary midcareer master: her countrywoman Rineke Dijkstra. Ms. van Meene’s portraits of young girls have always felt like a subset of Ms. Dijkstra’s oeuvre, and her focus exclusively on white New York young adolescents feels especially dubious here. Ms. Dijkstra, who found a niche photographing adolescents and young adults at vulnerable and transitional moments in their lives — after childbirth or during military training, for instance — is represented by her benchmark series from 1993, in which she shot teenagers on beaches in various locales. Coney Island happened to be one, so three of those images are here.
Charlotte Dumas’s portraits of dogs in New York shelters are mildly affecting, but a lightweight commentary compared with, say, Daido Moriyama’s world-weary “Stray Dog” from 1971. Similarly, Danielle van Ark’s photographs taken at art openings feel like a missed opportunity to document a motley subculture in its habitat. Ms. van Ark’s works look, at first glance, as if they were taken at the same opening (several are from a recent Cindy Sherman show at Metro Pictures) rather than the hundred-plus she reportedly attended.
Ms. Ryan’s focus on classical photographers turns out to be as much an asset as a liability for this show. The parallels between large-scale color photography and painting are easy to establish, as are the links with classic art photography. But aside from Ms. Deroo, and perhaps Mr. Scheeren, you won’t discover much here about New York — or photography — that you didn’t know beforehand.
Martha Schwendener is a freelance writer based in Brooklyn.
“Dutch Seen: New York Rediscovered” is on view through Sept. 13 at the Museum of the City of New York, 1220 Fifth Avenue, at 103rd Street; (212) 534-1672, firstname.lastname@example.org. See for an other review ...