Carel Visser / Counterbalance

Page 1


COVER IMAGE: 4 sliding into each other / 4 in elkaar geschoven,1972 Folded iron in four parts, 11 x 110 x 50 cm, 4 3/8 x 43 1/4 x 19 3/4 inches






Woman / Vrouw, 1951


Bird / Vogel, 1954


Signal / Signaal, 1958


Salami, 1964


Widely piled, 1966


Double salami / Dubbele salami, c.1966


Staircase / Trap, 1969


Jacob’s Ladder / Jacobsladder, 1969


Window / Raam, c. 1969


Double form / Dubbele vorm, c. 1970/1972


16 squares / 16 vierkanten, c. 1971


Double open and folded / Dubbel open en gevouwen, 1972


4 sliding into each other / 4 in elkaar geschoven, 1972


Walking stick / Wandelstok, 1978


Lake Powell, 1998


Flower vase / Bloemenvaas, 2001




Grasshoppers / Sprinkhanen, 1954


Tower / Toren, 1960

53 Untitled / Zonder titel, 1968 55 8 cubes / 8 kubussen, 1970 57 4 yellow rectangles / 4 gele rechthoeken, 1970 59 2 columns of horizontals / 2 kolommen met horizontalen, 1970 61 Pyramidal, 1972 63 4 corners / 4 hoeken, 1972 65 2 peacock feathers / 2 pauwenveren, 1974


Untitled / Zonder titel, 1992


Collage with mask and paper syrup cup / Collage met Zeeuwse keukenstrooppot, 1992

71 Collage with Lamborghini box / Collage met Lamborghini box, 1995 73 The big tree / De grote boom, 1997 75 Systeme Abdominal Complet, 1998





CAREL VISSER COUNTERBALANCE Carel Visser’s exhibitions history is extensive. From the first time he participated in a few group exhibitions in 1952 to the most recent major retrospective of his work in the Rijksmuseum Twenthe in 2009 on the occasion of his eightieth birthday, his work has been seen in very many (group) exhibitions, both at home and abroad. These include a number of museum and gallery presentations, as well as participation in (graphic art) biennales and artists’ events. The significance of his work was also established remarkably early on. By around 1960 it was he, together with Shinkichi Tajiri, Andre Volten and his friend Wessel Couzijn, who to a large extent defined the face of modern Dutch sculpture.1 Visser’s first retrospective in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam in 1960 – he was then 32 - was well received and led, among other things, to his participation in the annual International Exhibition in the Carnegie Institute in Pittsburgh in 1961. A year later he was given a six-month visiting professorship in the Washington University Art Department in St. Louis. In 1961 Visser had his first group exhibition in New York at the Bertha Schaefer Gallery together with Robert Adams and Coulentianos under the name ‘Three Constructivist Sculptors’. The many international exhibitions of Dutch art that were organized during the nineteen-fifties and sixties played a major role. Often subsidised by the state they reflected what was happening in Dutch art (and sculpture). These group exhibitions were accompanied by a catalogue in the relevant country’s language and thus made a significant contribution to the international reputation and positioning of Dutch art. This also meant that the world’s attention was drawn to Visser’s work at an early stage. In the impressive list of presentations, two retrospectives mark a milestone in the international exhibitions: the Venice Biennale in 1968 and - ten years later - the extensive review of his work in the Whitechapel Art Gallery in London (the latter then went on to Arnolfini Gallery in Bristol and Third Eye Centre in Glasgow). Because these were so long ago, they are both worth a brief re-examination here. After Constant’s successful presentation at the Venice Biennale two years previously, the Dutch committee, led by Rudi Oxenaar (director of the Kröller Müller Museum), decided to have a solo exhibition again. A Carel Visser retrospective this time. Critic Lambert Tegenbosch spoke of a ‘Dutch choice’ that ‘can strike an international chord’.2 It was not Visser’s debut on this prestigious stage. He had already been represented in 1958 with two sculptures; he was promoted there as representing abstraction, based on the principles of De Stijl. Most of the attention, however, went to the painters Gerrit Benner and Jaap Nanninga who were both showing major retrospectives of their work. The start of the 34th Biennale was turbulent. The event initially threatened to be overshadowed by demonstrations by students and artists against the interference of the ‘international art trade’ in the national exhibitions. This postponed the opening and the awarding of the prizes. As a precautionary measure some countries, such as Belgium and Sweden, closed their pavilions. Vandalism held no 6

fear for the Dutch, however. Nor did Visser, who did not really understand what the demonstrators were bothered about, worry about his work.3 Kho Liang Ie, an industrial designer with whom Visser had worked before, had set the Rietveld Pavilion up in a surprisingly robust way. He had covered the entire floor and some platforms and plinths with asphalt with the result that a penetrating smell of tar hung over the entire building. In combination with Visser’s imposing iron sculptures the presentation was impressive. A four metre tall sculpture Dubbelvorm 6 stood in the centre of the space. Smaller sculptures in iron and a few in aluminium around this, complemented with a careful selection of drawings and prints. Visser exhibited a total of twenty-five sculptures, including five wall reliefs in aluminium, a material with which he had been experimenting since 1965. In addition to twelve drawings, room was also made for sixteen woodcuts, unique sheets that Visser had printed by hand. The considerable collections of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag had been liberally drawn on for these paper works. Pieter Brattinga carefully designed the catalogue that comprised a booklet containing sketches Visser had made of his sculptures and a small, die-cut iron multiple. Visser’s contribution to the Biennale was extremely well received in the Dutch press. ‘Forceful simplicity from Carel Visser’ and ‘Visser’s iron sculptures make a powerful impression’, headed a couple of articles, which also pointed out that some of the foreign museum directors considered the Dutch exhibit to be one of the strongest.4 ‘Visser gains international renown at a stroke’ according to the Limburgs Dagblad. The international jury of the Biennale awarded Carel Visser the David E. Bright Foundation prize. This biennial prize was for sculptors under 45 - a prestigious prize that had in previous editions been awarded to Anthony Caro and Eduardo Paolozzi. The interest in his work also resulted in immediate purchases. A few reliefs, a sculpture and a number of woodcuts were sold within a few days. Justifying the demonstrators’ fears to a certain extent. During a trip to the Netherlands Clive Adams of the Arnolfini Gallery was impressed by Visser’s work and was surprised that an artist so respected in his own country had as yet had so little exposure in England. In fact Visser’s only solo exhibition was in 1973 at the Lucy Milton Gallery in London. An exhibition highly praised by Paul Overy in The Times; ‘Visser is probably the best sculptor working in Europe now’. 5 A description he would repeat five years later in his review of the Whitechapel show. In 1978 Visser was the third Dutch artist to exhibit at the Whitechapel. Before that there had been smaller shows by the painter/print-maker Hendrik Nicolaas Werkman (1975) and the now almost forgotten artist Saskia de Boer (1976); she created a furore at the time with dolls/puppets of rock stars among others. Nicholas Serota, the current Tate director and then at the helm of the Whitechapel Art Gallery, referred in the catalogue foreword to the affinity between Visser’s work and that of his British contemporaries. He hoped to show the latest developments in modern European sculpture through Visser. He had previously shown the work of Richard Long, in 1971 and 1977. Following Visser, that of Carl Andre. The talented critic Barbara Reise, who was also involved in the selection of Visser’s works, was to have written a comprehensive essay, but her untimely death meant that only Visser’s biography could be used. Visser lost an important advocate of his work with her death. 7

Installation view of Carel Visser exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery, 18 January - 26 February 1978. Courtesy of Whitechapel Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery Archive



In the wonderful, brightly lit spaces of the Whitechapel Art Gallery as many as 57 sculptures were displayed. Together with almost 90 works on paper (including drawings, woodcuts and collages) and a selection of jewellery Visser had designed for his wife Greet, a fully packed presentation was ensured on both floors. In number it even outstripped the retrospective Hans Locher had painstakingly put together in the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag in 1972 (the same year that Visser was awarded the National Prize for Visual Arts and Architecture). Many of the sculptures exhibited had not been seen before and came from the artist’s own collection or that of his family. The sculpture Hanging (Aan elkaar) that the Tate Gallery bought in 1973 was also shown. Barbara Reise wrote an interesting article in the magazine Studio International about this work, a so-called ‘salami sculpture’ from 1966, in which she compares Visser with a number of prominent sculptors, an assessment that Visser bore with verve: ‘In the poetic natural tautologies of his oeuvre, the salami series is a sort of fulcrum: more sensuous and logically objective than Caro’s work, more poetically associative and self-contained than Andre’s, more comfortably domestic than David Smith’s: it is so good that it has freed even Visser to explore further conceptions of sculptural experience’.6 Besides the well-known, strictly geometric sculptures from the fifties and sixties, examples of more recent work were also seen in which Visser made use of flexible, leather connections between the pieces of metal. Leather sculptures lay spread out on the floor that were different from those he exhibited at Sperone Westwater Fischer Inc in 1976. At the time he surprised the New York gallery with minimal sculptures comprising knotted together shoelaces that he draped on the ground in geometric shapes. With this type of work he was in a formal sense joining influential minimal and land art artists such as Carl Andre and Richard Long, artists that Visser found interesting.7 Distributed throughout the space stood or lay thin sheet steel sculptures that bent under their own weight or were ingeniously stacked or telescoped. In addition to series of drawings and woodcuts, on the walls were hung some ‘stuck-on images’ created since 1976, where the cut out - but mutually connected - parts were directly fixed to the wall, with no intermediate support. Making collages became more important to Visser in the mid-seventies. He fixes pictures from magazines onto paper heavily layered with black graphite (this gives the surface a metallic sheen that corresponded with his sculptures). A little later he also sticks shells, chicken bones, wool and other natural objects such as peacock feathers that Visser has found around his farm in the Betuwe onto the graphite-laden sheets. A couple of fine series of these were hung in the upstairs room and received positive reviews in the press. In the newspapers Visser was described as an intelligent, original artist with a good feeling for material and a good eye for innovation in the art of sculpture. In particular his earlier work, directly inspired by nature such as the salamis and the sheet steel sculptures met with critical approval. Although now and again some of his most recent collages and stuck-on images might be viewed with a certain suspicion as being slightly ‘easy’. The Tate Gallery, however, endorsed confidence in Visser’s work by acquiring an early picture from the exhibition, Fish Spine from 1954. A work inspired not only by a backbone, but also by the ‘endless column’ sculptures of Brancusi. A year later Visser donated a version of one of his best-known sculptures to the gallery: Auschwitz from 1957, which he had once submitted for a competition. In 10

the early eighties the museum again purchased eight fine woodcuts, printed by Marcel Kalksma’s Handmade Prints. The exhibition did not as yet show any trace of the changes Visser had meanwhile made in his plastic work. In 1978 he began working with existing objects and natural materials. Objects such as cow horns, wings, an umbrella or walking stick that ‘performed’ together as if in a sort of three-dimensional collage where both formal repetitions and contrasts were given a chance. This enabled him to almost ironically distance himself from the then current trends in art, a canon with which his work was regularly associated. Nor was there any lessening of the great interest in Visser’s work in the years that followed, irrespective of the turn his work took. Even now, when as man of eighty-six he is producing hardly any new work. As far as international attention is concerned, he has always had it. And this is not only gratifying, but also thoroughly deserved for someone with such a multifaceted and remarkable oeuvre. Joost Bergman translated by Jane Hall


See Carel Blotkamp, Carel Visser, Utrecht/Antwerp 1989, p. 105


Lambert Tegenbosch, ‘Carel Visser Nederlandse troef op de Biënnale’, De Volkskrant, Oct. 1967


Hans Sizoo, ‘Beeldhouwer C.N. Visser ‘’naar de grond toe, naar alles wat op de grond ligt’’, De Nieuwe Linie, 6 July 1968


De Telegraaf 4 July 1968, en Limburgs Dagblad 13 July 1968


Paul Overy, ‘Tate goes back to the Vorticists’, The Times, 30 May, p. 11


Barbara Reise, ‘Carel Visser. At Each Other’, Studio International 185 (1973) 955, p. 225


Blotkamp (note 1), p. 145



Woman / Vrouw 1951 Iron sculpture on concrete base 31 x 13 x 7.5 cm 12 1/4 x 5 1/8 x 3 inches



Bird / Vogel 1954 Iron sculpture 39 x 59 x 20 cm 15 3/8 x 23 1/4 x 7 7/8 inches



Signal / Signaal 1958 Iron sculpture 53 x 71 x 44.5 cm 20 7/8 x 28 x 17 1/2 inches



Salami 1964 Iron sculpture 20 x 40 x 122 cm 7 7/8 x 15 3/4 x 48 inches



Widely piled 1966 Aluminium 130 x 120 x 2 cm 51 1/8 x 47 1/4 x 3/4 inches



Double salami / Dubbele salami c. 1966 Iron sculpture (two parts) on marble base 10 x 34 x 8 cm 3 7/8 x 13 3/8 x 3 1/8 inches



Staircase / Trap 1969 Oxidised iron sculpture 50 x 50 x 10 cm 19 3/4 x 19 3/4 x 3 7/8 inches



Jacob’s Ladder / Jacobsladder 1969 Iron sculpture Height 138 cm (54 1/4 inches)



Window / Raam c. 1969 Iron assemblage 100 x 100 cm 39 3/8 x 39 3/8 inches



Double form / Dubbele vorm c. 1970/1972 Iron sculpture (two parts) 20 x 57 x 57 cm 7 7/8 x 22 1/2 x 22 1/2 inches



16 squares / 16 vierkanten c. 1971 Iron and leather assemblage 46 x 46 cm 18 1/8 x 18 1/8 inches



Double open and folded / Dubbel open en gevouwen 1972 Iron sculpture 57 x 160 x 50 cm 22 1/2 x 63 x 19 5/8 inches



4 sliding into each other / 4 in elkaar geschoven 1972 Folded iron in four parts 11 x 110 x 50 cm 4 3/8 x 43 1/4 x 19 3/4 inches



Walking stick / Wandelstok 1978 Wooden walking stick, goats horn and brass copper 47 x 88 x 45 cm 18 1/2 x 34 5/8 x 17 3/4 inches



Lake Powell 1998 Corten steel 25 x 100 x 30 cm 9 7/8 x 39 3/8 x 11 3/4 inches



Flower vase / Bloemenvaas 2001 Iron sculpture 82 x 40 x 40 cm 32 1/4 x 15 3/4 x 15 3/4 inches




Grasshoppers / Sprinkhanen 1954 Ink on paper 34 x 21.5 cm 13 3/8 x 8 1/2 inches



Tower / Toren 1960 Woodcut on chinese paper 59 x 94 cm 23 1/4 x 37 inches



Untitled / Zonder titel 1968 Graphite on paper 70 x 100 cm 27 1/2 x 39 3/8 inches

Untitled / Zonder titel 1968 Graphite on paper 70 x 100 cm 27 1/2 x 39 3/8 inches



8 cubes / 8 kubussen 1970 Woodcut on rice paper 60 x 91 cm 23 5/8 x 35 3/4 inches



4 yellow rectangles / 4 gele rechthoeken 1970 Woodcut on rice paper 62.5 x 93 cm 24 5/8 x 36 5/8 inches



2 columns of horizontals / 2 kolommen met horizontalen 1970 Woodcut on rice paper 60.5 x 91 cm 23 3/4 x 35 3/4 inches



Pyramidal 1972 Graphite on paper, two parts 50 x 65 cm 19 3/4 x 25 5/8 inches



4 corners / 4 hoeken 1972 Graphite on paper, two parts 50 x 65 cm 19 3/4 x 25 5/8 inches



2 peacock feathers / 2 pauwenveren 1974 Graphite drawing in plexiglas box 50 x 65 cm 19 3/4 x 25 5/8 inches



Untitled / Zonder titel 1992 Mixed media collage 85 x 108 cm 33 1/2 x 42 1/2 inches



Collage with mask and paper syrup cup / Collage met Zeeuwse keukenstrooppot 1992 Mixed media collage 86 x 49 x 12 cm 33 7/8 x 19 1/4 x 4 3/4 inches



Collage with Lamborghini box / Collage met Lamborghini box 1995 Mixed media collage 104 x 115 x 13 cm 41 x 45 1/4 x 5 1/8 inches



The big tree / De grote boom 1997 Graphite on paper 70 x 100 cm 27 1/2 x 39 3/8 inches



Systeme Abdominal Complet 1998 Mixed media collage 92 x 114 x 13 cm 36 1/4 x 44 7/8 x 5 1/8 inches



CAREL VISSER BIOGRAPHY Born 1928 Papendrecht, The Netherlands An unconventional sculptor, standing on the shoulders of his great example Constantin Brancusi, Carel Visser has always worked with form and material, all materials. Steel and glass, eggs and feathers, wool and leather, Visser is not afraid to experiment but remains loyal to traditional values.

Like his friend Joost Baljeu, Carel Visser built in the 50s and 60s on the principles of Mondrian with robust iron sculptures of geometric forms. Especially in the post-war Netherlands, where sculpture is still dominated by the figuration of Esser and Bronner at the Academy, the abstract imagery of Carel Visser was a novelty and a special performance of this great artist.

Beginning in the 1950s there were those sculptors for whom the obviousness of figuration was no longer satisfactory. Carel Visser is one of those sculptors. He rather experimented with shapes and materials. In his scrapbooks mainly images of prehistoric rock formations, antiques, old cars and the studios of Brancusi and Giacometti can be seen.

Carel Visser has been working for nearly sixty years; sculptures, reliefs, drawings, collages and woodcuts. His first works date from the ‘40s: subtle human and animal figures, welded iron. In the 50s, these characters are replaced by robust compositions of geometric shapes composed of iron plates and bars. Visser examines principles such as repetition, mirroring, tilt and overload. Paul van Rosmalen translated by Jane Hall


Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam 1985. Photograph by Wubbo de Jong


Selected exhibition history


1954 - Kunsthandel Martinet, Amsterdam

1977 - Galleria d’Art Primo Piano, Rome

1955 - ‘t Venster, Rotterdam

1977 - Art & Project, Amsterdam

1959 - Neue Gallery Parnass-Jaährling, Wuppertal

1977 - Dordrechts Museum, Dordrecht

1960 - Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

1978 - Whitechapel Art Gallery, London

1960 - Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague

1978 - Arnolfini Gallery, Bristol

1961 - Bertha Schaefer Gallery, New York

1978 - Art & Project, Amsterdam

1964 - Rotterdamse Kunstkring, Rotterdam

1978 - Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

1965 - Gallery Espace, Amsterdam

1979 - Städtische Gallery, Nordhorn

1967 - Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague

1979 - Museum Fodor, Amsterdam

1974 - Gallery Nouvelles Images, The Hague

1979 - Art & Project, Amsterdam

1974 - Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal, Leiden

1979 - Konrad Fischer, Düsseldorf

1974 - Art & Project, Amsterdam

1979 - Groninger Museum, Groningen

1975 - Stedelijk van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven

1980 - Gallery Durand-Dessert, Paris

1975 - Loeb-Gallery, Bern

1980 - Gallery Hester van Royen, London

1975 - Gallery Maenz, Cologne

1981 - Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo

1976 - Sperone Westwater Fischer, New York

1981 - Gallery Richard Foncke, Gent

1976 - Art & Project, Amsterdam

1981 - Art & Project, Amsterdam

1977 - Städtische Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf

1982 - Nigel Greenwood Gallery, London

1977 - Konrad Fischer, Düsseldorf

1982 - Art & Projcet, Amsterdam

1982 - Gallery Fenna de Vries, Rotterdam

1994 - Gallery Lambert Tegenbosch, Heusden

1982 - Gallery Nouvelles Images, The Hague

1995 - Biennale São Paulo

1983 - Plus-Kern, Brussels

1999 - Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo

1984 - Groninger Museum, Groningen

2000 - de Zonnehof, Amsersfoort

1984 - Art & Project, Amsterdam

2008 - Rijkmuseum Twente, Enschede

1985 - Institut Néerlandais, Paris

2008 - ‘Relief and Construction’, Borzo modern & contemporary art, Amsterdam

1985 - Konrad Fischer, Düsseldorf 1985 - Gallery Durand-Dessert, Paris

2010 - ‘Lijn en Vlak’, Borzo modern & contemporary art, Amsterdam

1985 - Museum Boymans van Beuningen, Rotterdam

2014 - Borzo modern & contemporary art, Amsterdam

1985 - Gallery Fenna de Vries, Rotterdam

2015 - The Mayor Gallery, London

1986 - Gallery Richard Foncke, Gent

2015 - Borzo modern & contemporary art, Amsterdam

1987 - Art & Project, Amsterdam 1988 - Centre d’Art Contemporain du Domaine de Kerguehannec Locminé 1988 - Gallery Durand-Dessert, Paris 1989 - Rijksmuseum Kröller-Müller, Otterlo 1990 - Sprengel Museum, Hannover 1990 - Forum des LANDESMUSEUM, Hannover 1992 - Van Reekum Museum, Apeldoorn 1994 - Haags Gemeentemuseum, The Hague 79


modern & contemporary art

The Mayor Gallery

T +44 (0)20 7734 3558

21 Cork Street, First Floor

F +44 (0)20 7494 1377

London W1S 3LZ


United Kingdom

Borzo Kunsthandel BV

T +31 (0)20 626 33 03

Keizersgracht 516

F +31 (0)20 470 37 36

1017 EJ Amsterdam


The Netherlands

Printed on the occasion of the exhibition: CAREL VISSER COUNTERBALANCE The Mayor Gallery, London 18 FEB - 10 APR 2015 Borzo, Amsterdam 2 - 30 MAY 2015 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording or otherwise without the prior permission of the publishers or copyright holders. Edition of 500 Introduction © Joost Bergman Translation © Jane Hall Photography © Pieter de Vries Photography, The Netherlands All dimensions of works are given height before width before depth The colour reproduction in this catalogue is representative only Design by Jamie Howell, Christine Hourdé and Barbara Jonckheer Printed by Birch Print, Heritage House, DE7 5UD ISBN: 978-0-9927984-4-4

Millions discover their favorite reads on issuu every month.

Give your content the digital home it deserves. Get it to any device in seconds.