THE MAD MASTERS at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum

The Mad Masters is Stefan Tcherepnin’s first institutional solo exhibition and his Masters will surely charm most visitors. Mad or not, these are giant puppets which could have escaped from the Muppet Show. It takes some time to realise not all is what it seems.

On entering, visitors meet a white Mad Master. Like Tcherepnin, he is a musician. White Master needs to improve his act, if he wants to make it big in today’s pop-scene. Something else produces the music.

Brown Mad Master sits in an easy chair watching Mad Master Adventures on television. His collection of mini-monsters adorn table and television. He seems to be an artist: what may be a crumpled self-portrait peeps out of a wastepaper basket.

Third Master is grey and needs a walking stick. This wanderer comes closest to the museum’s description of the Mad Masters as “… captured in diorama environments, as if on display in an alien natural history museum. …

Next is red Mad Master, who is a favourite with visitors. A dad explained to his kid and me: “Look! He drunk too much Fanta. Now he’s asleep!” Reinterpreted: red Mad Master got plastered and passed out.

Garbage surrounding him is evidence of a hefty consumption of Fanta and other consumer goodies. This Mad Master likely preaches ‘safe planet earth’ while awake. He just is not into cleaning up his environment.

Seats in front of a big screen invite visitors to sit down. Stefan Tcherepnin and fellow artists filmed each Mad Master wandering through a season, experiencing climate change. The documentary ends with all the Mad Masters flocking to the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum.

There is more, for “… a glass clown face inspired by George C. Tilyou’s iconic Coney Island Steeplechase Park gate, strung from the ceiling as if a floating holographic amulet. Envisioned as a clairvoyant kaleidoscopic lens, the glass piece contains fragments from potential pasts and futures: hidden in the glass are the eroded borders of US territories in a hypothetical map of a post-climate change United States, superimposed with details of Kazimir Malevich’s Suprematism: Self-Portrait in Two Dimensions (1915), part of the Stedelijk’s collection. …

The face reminded me of Batman’s Joker with Mondriaan fragments. Suspended from the ceiling it supervises going-ons in the exhibition space. Pieces and sometimes the face itself, crop up in the Mad Masters’ documentary. It also casts shadows in some corners of the exhibition space.

Is this clown-face a Mad Masters’ god or devil? What does all this madness represent? Who are the Mad Masters: silly puppets, Stefan Tcherepnin’s alter egos, or humanity? Why do things culminate and freeze in a museum?

A text near the entrance explains, each Mad Master was created individually by Stefan Tcherrepnin and a team of artists over the past few years. These individual works are now used as “… symbiotic elements unfolding temporally in relation to a core idea: like a musical composition, the exhibition functions as a total experience that goes beyond language. …

Some music will not be repeated. During the exhibition’s opening night, Tcherepnin’s band Steit and Wally Blanchard performed. Wally Blanchard created the music for the The Mad Masters documentary.

Visiting? Take time to absorb and experience this exhibition. When wandering off to explore the rest of the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum, don’t forget to look at Kazimir Malevich’s work, which inspired Stefan Tcherepnin.  Kate Den   30th January 2018

Installation view Stefan Tcherepnin: The Mad Masters, 2018,
Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. Photo: Gert Jan van Rooij

Stefan Tcherepnin’s The Mad Masters continues at Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum until 3rd June