From February 16th until May 18th 2008, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen will exhibit a special series of works by Rotterdam-based artist Olphaert den Otter. Several years ago Olphaert den Otter’s eye was caught by a rickety hut in a fifteenth-century painting by Petrus Christus. He became fascinated by this structure and scoured his book collection for paintings showing similar refuges in the form of huts, stables, ruins and boxes from the 15th century to the present day. They became the subject of a series that the artist calls the ‘Stable and Shelter Morphology’. His research resulted in 126 new works on paper, culminating in the painting entitled ‘The Retreat’.
In 2003 Rotterdam artist Olphaert den Otter (1955) drew up a plan for a large painting of a homeless person’s hand built shelter. Constructions like this are usually made of materials that other people throw away. This ‘Umwertung aller Werte’ arouses the interest of the artist. He comes across a similar mix of the worthless and the valuable in medieval paintings depicting the stable of Bethlehem or the hermitage of St. Hieronymus. This prompts Den Otter to study the motif by means of stables and hermitages from western art history.
The stable and hermitage morphology series that Olphaert den Otter makes between 2004 and 2007 consists of 126 works. He used an example for each work – an existing work in which a building has been depicted. He quotes the original work, but doesn’t copy it. In the examples, the stables and hermitages are inhabited by people who give the work its meaning, and Den Otters main intervention is to remove these characters, so that only the surroundings remain. His works are about absence, which is stressed even more in their titles.
The entire series will be shown at Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in the gallery next to the exhibition Dutch Primitives. Paintings from the late Middle Ages. Fitting surroundings, as the stables and hermitages are a typically medieval theme. One of the panels in the adjoining gallery, The adoration of the Kings by Jan Mostaert (1510-1520) even served as a direct example for No adoration by Mostaert. But Den Otter also finds the stable and hermitage motifs in modern and contemporary art. The artist was inspired by several pieces from the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen collection. For instance, Cabane by Ronan and Erwan Bouroullec from 2001 led, in 2006, to the work Cabin by Bouroullec.
With this series, Olphaert den Otter proves that it is possible to make absolutely contemporary statements using the medieval paint egg distemper as a medium and with the entire art history tradition on board. Four years after the start of the project Den Otter completed the work that is was all about, and called it The Retreat (2007). At first sight the monumental painting looks brilliant and radiant, but if you look at it a little longer a sense of unease creeps up on you. This is not a cheerful painting. This is the outpost, the ultimate stable and hermitage, the place for anyone seeking refuge.