TROUBLE IN PARADISE at the Kunsthal Rotterdam

Everyone has their own personal collection. It may be a collection of fridge magnets, postcards – or even llama shaped lamps. But have you ever wondered how a curator would interpret your collection?

The Kunsthal’s latest exhibition Trouble in Paradise showcases over seventy works from the private collection of the Indian-Dutch businessman Rattan Chadha. This exhibition follows a series of exhibitions of private collections, including the impressive overview of the Caldic Collection during its fortieth anniversary in 2011. As seen in the relatively recent rise of private art museums, and of corporate art collections since the 1960s and 70s, this exhibition taps into a larger global trend in the art world.

Not having its own collection gives the Kunsthal space to experiment, as well as the ability to host constantly changing exhibitions. The Kunsthal’s dedication towards presenting art for a broad public resonates with Chadha’s mission, as the founder of CitizenM, to bring art to the mobile citizen in his hotels. It seems as though the Kunsthal and Chadha share the same belief in the power of arts-based civic engagement. In one of Raymond Pettibon’s 1957 works, included in this exhibition, a text reads the following: It hangs there, for all to see, something of a gift.

Trouble in Paradise is truly a feast for the eyes. Monty Python’s famous phrase sprang to mind as I walked around the exhibition: And now for something entirely different. As Chadha explained, a work was chosen for its appeal, not because of the name of the artist. Glossy surfaces reflected other works in the room, and colourful, twinkling compositions created shimmering effects on the walls opposite.

As I walked around the corner, I was startled to find a group of mannequins resembling Central African ‘nkisi’ objects. Small details that I had not noticed before jumped out at me as I walked past the works once more. One particular work invited me to touch it – the suitably titled Touch Me (1999), a touchscreen piece by the Berlin-based artist Kirstin Geisler. Fellow visitors and I chuckled at the relatable speech bubbles scratched into the ceramic pot titled Illusion of Depth (2003) by the British artist Grayson Perry. On the surface of the pot, a fashionista flicks her hair and wonders “have I paid that parking ticket?”

The different subjects, mediums and appearances of the artworks, created by artists from Tokyo to the Netherlands, are tied together by common threads that run throughout the exhibition. The conceptual nature of many of the artworks is apparent in pieces such as Jim Lambie’s Dancetaria VIII (2006) which brings to mind the famous piece by the conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth titled One and Three Chairs (1965). Art is Chadha’s inspiration, as someone who “thinks conceptually”. Elements that relate to the collector’s personal identity are scattered throughout the collection. This can be seen, for instance, in Marcel van Eeden’s work The Archaeologist, The Travels of Oswald Sollmann (2007-2008) which makes references towards Chadha’s native soil, Delhi. For this exhibition, the artworks have been divided into three themes: Soul Searching, Delicious Confusion and Forever Young. These refer to the different stages in the development of Chadha’s art collection.

The beauty of curating a private collection for a public exhibition must be the ability to clearly interpret a seemingly complex and spontaneous process – in this case, the act of collecting – in retrospective. Grouping the artworks in this way allows them to move from being melancholic reflections, to more challenging portrayals of the human condition. This brings to mind Picasso’s ‘Blue Period’ – and the way in which retrospective exhibitions for individual artists are curated in such a way as to show the development of their artistic careers. Soul Searching and Delicious Confusion both place a personal collection into a wider perspective, by exploring the human condition. The cover artwork for this exhibition, Rafael Rozendaal’s Random Fear (with Mirrors) (2019), is therefore extremely fitting, in its resemblance to a hall of mirrors.

The last section, Forever Young, presents works by up-and-coming artists who use new materials and media. Trouble in Paradise is a hugely significant exhibition, for its ability to make us see the role of private collectors in shaping contemporary art history. As this collection evolves, I hope to see another exhibition like this in the future.   Antonia Dalivalle      20th February 2019


Trouble in Paradise continues until the 26th May 2019