JOHAN CRETEN at Museum Beelden aan Zee, The Hague

Since first going to Beelden aan Zee a few years ago, this hidden gem on Scheveningen’s beach boulevard has rarely failed to enthuse me. The setting is a joy in itself: the museum building lies serenely in the dunes, and large windows allow for an immense amount of light to flood in.

Especially on warm summer days the museum, the only one in The Netherlands dedicated entirely to sculpture, has a miraculously Mediterranean feel. Monumental open doors seamlessly connect an outdoor sculpture terrace to the indoor exhibitions and herds of tourists just a few hundred metres away totally vanish.

The exhibitions tend to be solo shows and the one currently on display is no exception, presenting 50 works of Belgian sculptor Johan Creten. He is considered to be one of the first to introduce ceramics in contemporary art, and Naked Roots shows many of his ceramics, complemented with a few photo collages and bronze sculptures.

Creten’s work is colourful and cryptic, yet engages with themes of nature and sexuality. The pieces range from gigantic but simple, bird-shaped structures to sculptures with intricate flower patterns that reveal the artist’s fingerprints having carefully worked the clay.

In their own ways, the pieces all invite the viewer to ponder over meanings. Nothing is obvious, but many — also coloured — clay stools are scattered throughout the exhibition. While their positioning may guide the gaze of the visitor, the open space still allows for the works to be viewed from a variety of angles. They successfully facilitate reflection.

Take Couch Potatoes (1979), for example, presented on a wide pedestal and consisting of a few chairs and a couch on which large lumps of clay have been placed. To me, themes like power dynamics, interpersonal tension, and conflict resolution are all present, and as I sit on a colourful stool observing the work, my mind wanders to deeper questions: how do bodies take up space? Who matters?

My advice: act upon Beelden aan Zee’s invitation and immerse yourself in Johan Creten’s oeuvre.   Malou den Dekker   12th June 2018


The exhibition continues until 23rd September