Category Archives: holland

On the Banksy trail in some random little art town in the Netherlands

Banksy-meets-Basquiat-Exhibition-Holland-2013

Welcome to the small town of Laren in Holland, where you apparently stumble across big names.

It’s early Saturday afternoon and I’m in Laren, an old, affluent arty town some 30km southeast of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.

I’m here to attend a Banksy exhibition, something that I find a little absurd. How can you take a street artist and put them indoors, restrained and commercialised? It seems almost to be bad form. And yet, here I am supporting it, kinda.

It just so happens that the day I’ve chosen to visit is the day that the Lionel Gallery have spread out the red carpet, trayed up the champagne flutes and parked a Maserati and a Ferrari on the driveway. It’s some sort of open day.

I am sporting a black hoodie and scuffed shoes. I have seen better days. In terms of dress code, I am definitely not the one expected to walk down the red carpet and part with big money, but not wishing to judge (or more likely, not wishing to miss out on a sale should I just happen to be one of the rich who likes to look like a scruff) the gallery staff treat me with the same niceties as all the suited and trendy media types who are mingling around me.

Prints for sale. Genuine ones. Not the $12 ones you might have seen in your local bookstore.

Prints for sale. Genuine ones. Not the $12 ones you might have seen in your local bookstore.

Banksy prints are dotted around this small gallery. The Bristol legend is sharing the stage predominantly with Basquiat, but I also notice gilded butterflies by Damien Hirst and some typically lavish LaChapelle prints added to the mix. There’s even a solo Picasso piece, tucked around the corner. An unexpected treat.

Basquiat, LaChapelle and Hirst

Basquiat, LaChapelle and Hirst

The pièce de résistance is an original Banksy, a spray can depiction, stenciled Fragile and framed. Banksy captured. There’s blind bidding taking place for this modern art piece, and some chats later I realise that:

  1. There is a whole different breed out there who collect art purely for investment;
  2. I would kinda love to hang a Banksy, but even original prints without a signature start at over US$8,500 and I’m really not that bothered about the spray can; and
  3. I’m not really sure how I feel about Banksy being commodified, put INSIDE and made exclusive. Street art? High art?  Money art?
Banksy captured.

Banksy captured.

Months later, other than the fact that I like some of Banksy’s social commentary, I’m still not sure what to think.

And, to make matters worse, I never did get a glass of that champagne.

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The secrets of Amersfoort

I’m standing inside a room, if you can even call it that. It measures maybe two by three metres. My shoulders are hunched, my head lowered, and I’m listening to the house owner tell me how an entire, extended family used to live in this room.

In geographical context: the historic, medieval city of Amersfoort

In geographical context: the historic, medieval city of Amersfoort

Just a few days earlier I was gliding along the canals of Amersfoort, onboard a boat, huddled on wooden benches with my aunt, uncle and a handful of strangers. A burst of budding leaves and flowering trees lined the waterways as the sun shone down on cobbled walkways and historic buildings.

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect day to explore this ancient Dutch city.

Listening to the tour guide, I tried to pick out words but often referred to the English cheat sheet, noting dates that aged Amersfoort back to the late 1200s.

Seeing Amersfoort, Netherlands from the water

Setting off by boat

The western boat route took us by houses built into the first city walls and provided glimpses of Onze Lieve Vrouwetoren, a 98m high tower that not only provides a visual reference point within the city but houses the middle point of the Dutch grid reference system. We slipped under bridges and floated alongside water gates and the birthplace of the famous Dutch painter, Piet Mondrian.

Houses that make up the city walls, Amersfoort, Netherlands

Houses that make up the city walls

Sturdy water gate entrances, Amersfoort, Netherlands

Sturdy water gate entrances

Onze Lieve Vrouwetoren,  Amersfoort, Netherlands

Onze Lieve Vrouwetoren

Drinking in the age of this little city, it was apparent that she had been well looked after. Despite her years, she was neatly presented, breathing out secrets of a long, knowing life.

Now, some days later I find myself as a guest inside the tall windowed grandeur of one of Amersfoort’s oldest houses, peeking in through secret doors and into the more recent history of the Second World War. A Jewish family hid away inside this little, little room.

It’s this kind of history, the human component, which really resonates with me. I stay for a short while, hunched and imagining how one lives a confined life, and a life full of fear.

And then the owner pulls away some wood to reveal a tiny window with views directly over to the synagogue. There, within those views, I realise, must have lain some comfort.

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