Guiseppe Penone’s trees in the Rijksmuseum Gardens, Amsterdam – ‘irresistible forces of nature’

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In the fourth of a series of five planned public exhibitions in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum gardens, Italian artist Guiseppe Penone presents 25 sculptures that “express a close connection with nature and its irresistible forces”. Ends 2 October 2016.

Guiseppe Penone, 'Tra...' (detail), 2008, in 'Penone in the Gardens' at Rjjksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Guiseppe Penone, ‘Tra…’ (detail), 2008, in ‘Penone in the Gardens’ at Rjjksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Guiseppe Penone enlivens Rijkmuseum’s formal gardens with the ardor of trees

Think of Amsterdam and what may come to mind is a list that starts with smoke shops, red lights, tulips and canals, or maybe even includes Amstel, Heineken, and big wooden shoes.

Amsterdam is also home to a LOT of museums (more than 50, according to iamsterdam.com), covering all sorts of subjects, from prostitution and houseboats, to famous residents Anne Frank and Vincent Van Gogh. Not least of these educational institutions is Rijksmusuem, which contains a large collection of Dutch art and history, and is surrounded by prettily groomed gardens with fountains and a number of bronzes.

And from 2013 until 2017, the Rijksmuseum gardens host an annual open-air exhibition of renowned sculptors, starting with Henry Moore (2013), Alexander Calder (2014), and Joan Miró (2015). This year, the commission is awarded to Italian artist Guiseppe Penone (b. 1947), a leading representative of the Arte Povera movement that explores unconventional or “throw-away” materials and processes, which aim to “challenge and disrupt the values of the commercialised contemporary gallery system”.

For Penone, the tree remains a central element to his work, used to thrillingly chaotic effect in the orderly gardens at Rijksmuseum. Here, we get to see inside the bark, split as if by lightening or some other terrible force of nature, revealing the golden fire from within.

Marble becomes some kind of skin that almost pulsates with life…

Guiseppe Penone, 'Anatomia', 2011, 'Penone in the Gardens' at Rjjksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Guiseppe Penone, ‘Anatomia’, 2011, ‘Penone in the Gardens’ at Rjjksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

… or guards itself with sharpened spikes of the Acacia tree.

Elsewhere, a blackened branch reposes, encircled by a neat rectangle of hedgerow and memorialised in bronze, as if to honour a fallen hero.

Guiseppe Penone, 'Penone in the Gardens' at Rjjksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Guiseppe Penone, ‘Penone in the Gardens’ at Rjjksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Penone, though based in Italy, is no stranger to the UK art scene; his work is included in Tate’s collection, and he actively exhibits in other London spaces, most recently in City of London’s Sculpture in the City (‘Idee di Pietra – 1372 kg di Luce’), ‘Circling’ at the Gagosian in 2014, and winning the 2012 Bloomberg Commission at the Whitechapel for “Space di Luce”. Some of his works exhibited in London at one time or another, are included in the Rijksmuseum show, including one of his “Idee di Pietra-di Luce” works (part of Sculpture in the City 2016) and examples from the “Albero (Tree)” series (seen also at Tate Britain).

Guiseppe Penone, 'Albero di 8, 10, 11 metres', 2000, 1989, and 1999 respectively, and 'Nel Legno', 2010, in 'Penone in the Gardens' at Rjjksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Guiseppe Penone, ‘Albero di 8, 10, 11 metres’, 2000, 1989, and 1999 respectively, and ‘Nel Legno’, 2010, in ‘Penone in the Gardens’ at Rjjksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

The work that strikes me the most is the humanoid-shaped pile of metal-worked leaves, rising up from ground as if elevated by a breath taken in by the pair of golden lungs and then frozen mid-air in bronze. Google translates “Respirare l’Ombra” to mean “Breathing the Shadow”, perhaps alluding uncomfortably to the idea that the life-giving air we breathe is bequeathed freely by trees, yet is squandered by those same creatures who have the knowledge and means to preserve this treasure.

Guiseppe Penone, 'Respirare l'Ombra', 2000, in 'Penone in the Gardens' at Rjjksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Guiseppe Penone, ‘Respirare l’Ombra’, 2000, in ‘Penone in the Gardens’ at Rjjksmuseum, Amsterdam. Photo: Kelise Franclemont.

Penone in the Rijskmuseum Gardens is one of those art exhibitions full of pleasing aesthetic, a lovely background to an afternoon picnic in elegant gardens. Penone’s work can also serve as an urgent appeal to look and feel more deeply; more than objects of natural beauty, trees may be the most important things there are. If you have a spare half-hour or so in Amsterdam, you must see this exhibition.


More links and info about Rijksmuseum and Guiseppe Penone

Exhibition details:Penone in the Rijksmuseum Gardens‘ is on from 10 June to 2 October 2016 in Rijksmuseum Gardens, Museumstraat 1, Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Free entrance, step-free access. Open daily 9AM – 6PM.

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