‘Ode to brick’ is an entertaining but disjointed exhibition

The title couldn’t have been much shorter: Brick/ Brick is the name of the large-scale exhibition about the brick, which can now be seen in various places in Amersfoort. For a moment it looks as if the main part of the three-part exhibition in the Kunsthal/KAdE is attached Holland builds in bricks, 1890-1940, the famous exhibition in the war year 1941 in bombed-out Rotterdam, where the brick was presented as the inalienable ‘Dietse’ building material. ‘Ode to brick’, as the exhibition makers Brick/ Brick is called, starts with a series of models and design drawings of brick buildings from the first decades of the twentieth century. For example, there is a design for an insurance office by HP Berlage and a drawing by George van Heukelom The ink house in Utrecht, the office building of the Dutch railways from 1921, built of 23 million bricks.

But it quickly becomes clear that the beginning is a false start: in the sequel to Brick/ Brick architecture hardly plays a role, and it is primarily about paintings, sculptures, murals, installations and other works of art by more than fifty Dutch and foreign artists and designers, where brick plays a role in one way or another.

There is no shortage of good ‘brick art’ such as Willem Besselink’s minimalist wall sculptures inspired by masonry ties. Brick/ Brick. Undisputed highlights are the large rectangular sculptures by the Danish brick artist Per Kirkeby (1938-2018) in the central hall of the Amersfoort art gallery.

To the podium with colored bricks by Suzie van Staaveren and Besselink’s brickwork on the wall.
Photo Mike Bink

Relationship

Sometimes it is immediately clear why a particular piece of art has been chosen. This is what Bart Lunenborg shows in his beautiful installation Brick weaving from 2022 see the relationship between bricking walls and weaving textiles, something that fascinates young brick architects like Marjolein van Eig. But in handstand, Marijke van Warmerdam’s 1992 film loop of a young woman dressed in a white dress standing hand in hand against a white painted brick wall, the brick an afterthought. Just as well, or even better, the gymnast could have done her exercise against a white stucco wall.

Often you also get the feeling that a selected work could just as well have been shown by another. Instead of the painting that HJ Weissenbruch made in 1860 of the Koppelpoort in Amersfoort, another Dutch cityscape could have been hung, for example. After all, old Dutch towns are largely built of brick.

During the long journey along walled side paths, the visitor can regularly address the visitor. Halfway through the exhibition, for example, a video by the company Stack 3D is shown, in which computer-controlled robots flawlessly build brick walls with complex, parametric shapes. Elsewhere, there are images of, among other things, the Amsterdam Nieuwmarkt riots in 1975, which show that the brick can also be used as a weapon.

The artwork London by Per Kirkeby at the exhibition Brick/ Brick in Kunsthal KAdE.
Photo: Mike Bink

rudderless

Lesson cards and other teaching material for apprentice masons also appear, and in a display case stands the silver trowel with which the foundation stone was laid in 1648 for Amsterdam’s town hall, now the royal palace, covered from top to bottom with natural stone. And suddenly, very strangely, there is a poster from the Soviet Union from the 1970s showing a cheerful construction worker laying bricks under Lenin’s watchful eye. Hardly less remarkable is a 1942 NSB poster with the warning ‘Gossip harms your people’, for which the designer used an image of a brick wall for unclear reasons.

‘Oden til mursten’, for example, is all in all an entertaining, but disjointed and rudderless exhibition. Brick/ Brick lacks a strong idea that could have given meaning to the exhibition. This also applies to the catalogue, which has been shaped like a brick. This contains not only small photos of the brick art on display, but also of hundreds of works that cannot be seen in Amersfoort. The catalog reinforces the impression of that Brick/ Brick a typical exhibit is from the Google era, where the keywords “art” and “brick” have resulted in a series of randomly selected artworks and artifacts that could also have been very different.

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