In the early Nineties of the previous century, Harmen Brethouwer (Aalten, 1960) developed an overall concept for his art, which he has been elaborating on ever since. For the first time, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen is now presenting an overview of his work, from February 22nd until May 18th 2008. There are three recurrent themes in Brethouwer’s work: Chinoiserie, Art Deco and a Minimal line. He employs two basic forms – a three-dimensional conical ‘menhir’ and a flat square panel on the wall – to explore traditions, techniques and formal languages from all countries and periods. ‘I want to make antiques of the future’, he says.
‘If you’re preoccupied with ideas in art history, you invariably make a discovery’, says Harmen Brethouwer in his new book. This exhibition shows what he means by this. His precise observations about art history lead to the creation of new combinations of images that deny all stylistic boundaries and limitations of materials, scale or technique. Brethouwer is thus frequently a client for specialist craftspeople working in marble, filigree and wood. Through their refined contribution, Brethouwer’s work creates a link between craft and the visual arts.
One glance at Harmen Brethouwer’s collected works shows us that in his choice of materials the artist, besides using traditional materials like paint, bronze and earthenware, regularly exhibits a predilection for exclusiveness and exoticism, in his use of tortoiseshell, malachite, ray skin and mother-of-pearl, for instance. For the production of his art works and the working of the materials he regularly calls in the help of specialists in handicrafts that are becoming quite scarce, such as filigree work and marble imitation, or the help of technical and biological scientists who use their specialist knowledge and equipment in order to assess the feasibility of an experiment.
However laborious and time-consuming the processes used in the making of his objects may be at times, they are always based on an exceptional story. The ingredients for these stories Brethouwer takes from ancient cultures, the history of art, unusual artefacts or modern science. His highly personal powers of association give the stories he portrays a coherence that is completely logical. By restricting himself to two basic shapes that are to serve as the main canvases for these stories –the square with a hole and the conical shape, the oblate drop– he has not so much restricted himself as created the opportunity to imbue each work with an extra layer of meaning, both shapes being heavily symbolic in themselves. At the same time they create a coherence in his oeuvre, within which the individual works often show great differences in a material sense. Also his choice of Chinoiserie, Art Deco and Minimal Art as he leading decorative focus, gives his work a strong sense of unity.
Accompanying the exhibition, an extensive book entitled ‘Over nutteloze zaken’ (On superfluous things) will be brought out by De Zwaluw publishers. This also includes a lengthy interview with the artist by Sjarel Ex, and articles by, among others, Carel Blotkamp, Mark Kremer and Alied Ottevanger.