Art Rotterdam 2021 at the Van Nelle Fabriek

Aldo van den Broek at Gallery Vriend van Bavink, Amsterdam

The colossal and iconic Van Nelle Fabriek dominates the landscape in the deolate no-man’s-land between Rotterdam and neighbouring Schiedam. Standing between the railway and the motorway, this huge white former coffee, tea and tobacco factory is so iconic it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 2014. Not quite as huge is Art Rotterdam Fair which is held annually in the building’s vast empty spaces.

Cancelled last year and postponed from earlier this year, Art Rotterdam has become one of the most important art fairs in Europe. This year, because of ongoing restrictions, all the participant galleries are from Western Europe with, of course, The Netherlands dominating.

Part of the city’s Art Week, the fair embraces lots of other events and this year is showing the work of artists in the various open spaces around the building. Inside, the fair is spread over several rooms and I had a strange sense of déja vu as I had been here only a couple of weeks ago for my Covid vaccination. Gone were the face masks, cordoned off areas and dozens of eager health workers with needles at the ready. Their booths had been replaced by a hundred or so stands displaying myriad art in all shape and form. In adjacent rooms Mondriaan Fonds presented new talent from whom video and high tech installations dominated.

I always find the prospect of art fairs a bit daunting, not only because of the vast amount of art one has to digest and the strain on the feet, but because frequently there is are a lot of work which could only be described as pictures, rather than art. Art Rotterdam is clearly strictly curated and the general standard is consistently high. Of course, one is not going to like everything, but objectively I can honestly say there was not one stand that let the show down. The problem is deciding which ones to mention.

The first one that caught my eye was Rotterdam’s Contour Gallery which was presenting an installation by Marie Pop. Entitled The Lost Wonders of the Future Paradise was made up of about twenty sublime individual pictures arranged along a seven or eight meter stretch of wall. Varying in size from more than two meters to a few centimeters the exquisite, ethereal, almost surreal painted-on photos traced the cycle of life.

Also from Rotterdam, Frank Taal was showing the work of gallery artists, including Dan den Houter who was showing his mixed media pictures/objects which marry brightly coloured epoxy resins with sheets of mahogany. Dan is best known for his ice paintings – slabs of frozen paint which slowly thaw, creating rainbow effects on the wall and floor. One was on show, preserved for the moment in a glass fronted fridge.

Susanna Inglada at Maurits van de Laar

Other work that caught my eye, and this is a purely random, subjective choice, was Hans Lemmen at the Belgian Galerie Felix Frachon, Susanna Inglada’s installation at Maurits van de Laar and Nasser Bakhshi beautiful little box at Pedrami Gallery from Antwerp.

But for me the most interesting work was on the stand of Gallery Vriend van Bavink from Amsterdam. The giant autobiographical works by Aldo van den Broek (see above) impressed with their boldness and freedom. I loved the one with the pair of swans.

Also, in a dominant position in the main hall was the stand for the Juryrapport NN Art Award 2021. The work of the four runner-up finalists was on show alongside the winner, Erik Mattijssen from Amsterdam who is with the Cokkie Snoei Gallery in Rotterdam.   Michael Hasted    2nd July 2021