Hans Op de Beeck’s Ash-Coated Cabinets
Emily Steer | Elephant, 14 October 2018
The Belgian artist’s Wunderkammer series of works are included in his latest show at Galerie Ron Mandos in Amsterdam, which sees the entire walls and floor of the space coated in a raw, clay-like grey, reflecting the many works which sit in the space, looking as though they could crumble to ash on the lightest touch.
We’re very used to encountering art in white cube spaces, but how about grey cubes? For his latest exhibition at Galerie Ron Mandos in Amsterdam, Hans Op de Beeck has coated the walls and floor in his trademark, powdery grey tones, matching the numerous works which sit on show in Cabinet of Curiosities. The artist’s use of arguably the most melancholic of all colours is wholly individual—while his sculptures, often depicting young children, animals and flowers, look as though they could have been pulled from the aftermath of an ashy volcano, there’s a peacefulness to them too, his characters often appearing to be in the depths of a long and tranquil sleep.
For his latest series of sculptures, titled collectively as Wunderkammer, he fills cabinets (of course, also coated in the same grey) with items emulating ancient masks, hummingbirds, vases and human figures. They call to mind the traditional European Renaissance cabinet of curiosity, bringing together an eclectic mix of historical, cultural and natural objects and engaging with ideas around mortality and ownership. Here, his classic soft grey carries a sense of death and the past, of items whose meaning has perhaps changed or softened with the progression of time, the viewer standing a few steps removed from these items’ original purposes or auras.
But the artist’s works don’t just evoke a sense of the past, there’s a smoothness and perfection to their surfaces which speaks of the new, and the all-out grey wash also connects with 3D modelling programmes, where objects are built up formally before their details and final colours are layered on top. They always make me think of the bare Plaster of Paris models I used to make as a child too, of the powdery, crumbly casts which are pulled out of their rubber molds before the paint is applied. It feels as though there is room for viewer projection onto these items, which are perhaps missing some of their finished essence. Rather than the usual clamour of colour and vibrancy that we often experience against the bare white walls of contemporary gallery spaces, here there is a moment of quiet clarity, which, while deathly in certain ways, is actually rather calm and welcome.
Also included in the show are a film and a series of monochrome watercolours. The artist created a set of original watercolours for Elephant issue 25.