In my former post I showed you some pictures of a work of art, ‘Open Ended’, by Richard Serra, a steel colossus, once dominating the garden of the old Amsterdam Municipal Museum, now diminished to mere ornamental status in the shadows of a towering, vinyl monstrosity.
Though, in a way, I still like it, the most appealing trait of the rigid, slightly-tilted uprights being their warm, reddish-brown surfaces, especially in bright sunlight. On overcast or rainy days, the structure casts a drab, almost menacing impression by the sheer monumentality of its naked steel parts. Under those conditions, it seems as if the artist’s main intent was to overawe the beholders, to make them feel insignificant beside the glory of his creation, a trait not uncommon in monumental artists and architects of any epoch past and present.
Which reminded me of a different sculpture of oxidized steel, also in Amsterdam, that seems to mock the inherent rigidity of everything ferrous,
here observed from an opposite, less enticing angle, but the lightness of it still exposed by its shadow.
In passing one’s at once surprised by the frivolity of a ribbon of steel bent in such a way as to provoke a feeling of joy and liberation elicited by the paradox of movement expressed in matter. No attempt at grandiosity here, only an artist’s genuine endeavor at catching the meaning of freedom regained by stubborn resistance. The first time I saw it I had to smile.
Freedom regained is exactly what it stands for. From May 1940 till May 1945 Holland was occupied by German Nazi forces, ‘de Moffen’, as we called them. While they were still around, on May 8th, 1945, a vanguard of a thousand Canadian cavalry entered the city of Amsterdam from the south, and liberated its citizens from the Nazi terror. From many a window flew the national colors, red-white-blue, and the orange streamer of the Royal House.
In commemoration, the Canadian invasion was repeated in 1980, and at this occasion the sculpture, named ‘Amsterdam thanks her liberators’, was ceremoniously unveiled by the Mayor and lieutenant colonel Bell Irving of the Canadian Army.
The artist was Jan de Baat, an autodidact, Dutch sculptor who is characterized by his own words in this web page about the monument, where you’ll find several pictures of this joyful, debonair sculpture from different angles. The page is in Dutch, so I’ll translate the salient parts for you.
Wak van licht en lucht / A blowhole of light and sky
“In the indicated place I settled myself on the turf, looked up and saw this enormous blowhole of light and sky. Almost nowhere in Amsterdam an equal place is to be found. ‘I need to reach out into that space,’ was the first thought that came up. And then followed the idea: I wanted a streamer in that blowhole.”
Werkwijze / Course of action
“I wanted to know how a streamer waves. I rented a big blower and connected it to pipes by hoses. I suspended strips of paper, rubber, sailcloth, etc. I made them wave and flutter from different angles and filmed them. So doing I obtained hundreds of black-and-white slides, which I projected upon the wall. The sequel was almost dramatic. I sat down at the table with my wife and said: ‘Make me a mug of coffee, dear, for I seem stuck.’ I took pencil and paper to sketch the cause of the obstruction, put down some lines and… suddenly, I had drawn it! I had become such kind of streamer myself that, at once, I could put it on paper freehand.”
Jan de Baat (1921 - 2010)
“I’m a monumentalist. This means I don’t incorporate personal issues into my sculptures, but I aim at touching the beholder with a thing of beauty. Like, when walking in a wood, you may think: ‘What a lovely tree,’ as such I hope people will experience my sculptures. However, I’m an abstract artist, so my sculptures are abstract.”
In my case, it definitely worked that way.