ART ROTTERDAM at the Van Nelle Fabriek

Eric Mangen Sacred Monsters 2023 Acrylic, oil stick, spray paint on canvas. 300 x 650cms. Showing with the Valerius Gallery from Luxembourg

There are few things I enjoy more than a good curry. I often order thali, a sort of taster menu with several different dishes, plus rice and a chapati. It consist of maybe four or five different curries, each served in a small bowl – some of which you love and others that perhaps you are not so keen on. And, despite the portions being small, together they make quite big meal and at some point you have eaten enough and need to stop. Art fairs are a bit like a thali. The bigger ones can be very tiring and it’s hard to keep up your interest when your feet hurt and when you have to trudge past too many stands which do not interest you.

The twenty-fifth Art Rotterdam takes place in the iconic Van Nellefabriek and is, I guess, by international standards, medium size and is manageable in a couple of hours and I really enjoyed my visit. It has just over one hundred stands, about twenty-five artists showing in the grounds outside plus another eighty-six artists showing in the Prospects section, which I will come to later.

Generally, this year, the standard is very high and for me, a handful really stood out. I really liked the Artistic Matter stand which was made possible by Ali Keles and Lakeside Capital Partners and presented by Weisbard Galerie Foundation and Annemarie Fine Art. Tomáŝ Libertiny’s spectacular works are all made from beeswax, more often than not from honeycombs. The bees are kept in Rotterdam in a specially created farm and a beekeeper is on the company pay-roll.

A few of the other stands that caught my eye were the Valerius Gallery from Luxembourg which was showing fine paintings by Eric Mangen, one of which on unstretched canvas covered two walls, The Modest Show from Manchester which had the excellent, rather surrealist photo-based work of John Robinson and Rotterdam’s Frank Taal Gallery had a very mixed selection of gallery artists. But certainly the most memorable piece in the room was a four meter high rabbit made of straw which you could smell long before you could see it. There were dozens more stands worthy of mention, but clearly I can’t list them all. Obviously, most of the galleries showing were Dutch but there were many from around the rest of Europe and I even spotted one from New Zealand.

Art Rotterdam is, of course, a commercial fair where dealers come there to sell art and do business and, having spoken to many of them, they do very well. But Art Rotterdam is much more than that. It is the flagship of Rotterdam Art Week during which it presents, in conjunction with the city’s Kunsthal and Nationale-Nederlanden, the prestigious NN Art Award for which authenticity and innovation are the main criteria. This year’s nominees are Maaike Kramer, Peim van der Sloot, Jan van der Pol and Mónica Mays.  

Alongside the main show, in a huge hangar-like room, reached through a long corridor is Prospects, showing young artists who have been educated in The Netherlands, who have received support from the Mondriaan Fund  and whose work can be seen during Art Rotterdam. For me this is the best part of the Fair. Not only is it quieter and more relaxed but the standard of the work on view is uniformly high. I particularly liked the sculptures of NN Award nominee Mónica Mays from Madrid who lives in Amsterdam. Made from parchment, raw wool and other animal derived materials they have a sort of eerie human form, almost like Egyptian mummies

During Rotterdam’s Art Week, in addition the the Fair, most of the city’s galleries and institutions mount events or special exhibitions, so there is a lot happening and plenty to do, so I suggest you leave yourself plenty of time.   Michael Hasted  1st February 2024

STOP PRESS The winner of the €10,000 NN Art Award is Peim van der Sloot

Art Rotterdam continues at the Van Nellefabriek until 4th February.