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Robert Filliou (1926-1987)

For me Fluxus is Robert Filliou and Robert Filliou is Fluxus. There are so many examples how Filliou approached art in his very personal way. Born in France, but at one time he worked in Los Angeles for Coca Cola. This is where he must have learned to speak and write english, but when you listen to him he learned to speak the language, but not without the french accent.

Still i like his works and there is always something to discover within his projects of which one  was a project he did at the StedelijK Museum Amsterdam in 1971 after which project a catalogue was published. The catalogue RESEARCH AT THE STEDELIJK Nov.5-Dec.5 1971 is available at www.ftn-books.com , is one of the rarest from the Seventies Stedelijk catalogues and is an excellent introduction into the fascinating world of Robert Filliou.

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Co Westerik ( 1924-2018) dies at the age of 94.

Yesterday morning the family of Co Westerik announced the death of this great dutch painter. His works are present in practically every large dutch museum and some admiring collectors ( the late Frits Becht ao) managed to buy more than average numbers of paintings from him and that is quite an accomplishment since his production was low…..extremely LOW. In many a year he managed to complete only as few as 3 paintings, making his work a rare work to add to a collection. It was different with his prints and drawings, because here his production was “normal”. One quality all his works have in common……it is the extreme detail and craftsmanship that make his works of high quality and stand out from the rest. At the time i worked at the Gemeentemuseum  i met the artist on several occasions, but i only remember that i spoke to his representatives concerning catalogue and postcard productions. Even on these occasion he was highly (rightfully) concerned about the result. But in the end he had the publication as he had visualized it. The costs did not matter to him….the result did. ww.ftn-books.com has many titles available on Co Westerik.

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Wim Crouwel and the van Abbemuseum

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Before Wim Crouwel became the main designer for all publications published by the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in in the 60’s, 70’s and early Eighties (TD). There was a short 4 years that he made some beautiful publications for the van Abbemuseum Eindhoven. In these you can recognize the early Wim Crouwel. Size, use of multiple ( colored) papers, typography and layout are all typical for the early Wim Crouwel. www.ftn-books.com is fortunate to have a nice selection of these early WimCrouwel designed publications. Pictures tell a better story than words can . In this case , this certainly true. So here are some nice van Abbemuseum publications by Wim Crouwel.

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Pop Art exhibitions in the Low Countries.

According to my information the first large scale Pop Art exhibitions in the Netherlands took place in 1964. With it was the famous Wim Crouwel designed catalogue published with the upper right corner  “folded”.

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A spectacular cover and an example for many other designers to follow this and being inspired by this cover for the years to come. Since, other exhibition  followed of which many publications are available at www.ftn-books.com. One other has certainly to be mentioned because it followed in the year after the Stedelijk Museum exhibition took place. In this case POP ART was combined with the French/Belgium wave which followed in the steps of Pop Art, Le NOUVEAU REALISME.

 

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This way the United States Pop Art mouvement was combined with the European Pop Art artist like Martial Raysse.

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Since other Pop Art exhibitions took place all over Europe, but the Netherlands  and Belgium stayed interested in this fascinating art. I remember recent exhibitions in Schiedam, Nijmegen, Kunsthal Rotterdam, Brussels and the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag all being successful, making Pop Art an established art form…Pop Art is here to stay.

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Gerrit van Bakel (1943-1984)

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I always stumble upon this artist whenever i am looking for sculpture in the Netherlands in the Eighties. van Bakel is well known here because of his exhibition which were held during his life and shortly after his death in 1984. There even is an excellent website devoted to his life and works : www.gerritvanbakel.nl , but lately not much of his works are on show or included in auctions or at gallery presentations. Possibly this is because collectors keep his work in their collection because it is original, playful and accessible sculpture and the resemblance his works have with the ones by Panamarenko and Beuys. In 1984 , van Bakel was invited to hold a lecture at the university of Twente. Here follows the complete text of the lecture in english. And for the publications on van Bakel. visit www.ftn-books.com

ELEMENTS OF AN ARTIFICIAL LANDSCAPE
Lecture by Gerrit van Bakel at the Technical University Twente, 1984

Ladies and gentlemen,

I have been invited to make a speech here, but I was originally invited to put on an exhibition as well. Because my work has a somewhat technological character, the assumption was that it would be appropriate to show it in a College of Technology. That is no more than an assumption. I know that in practice it turns out differently, because people with a technological background judge art that has a technological character on the basis of its technological and not its artistic quality. If I were to put on an exhibition of my work in a College of Technology, I would therefore have to take this into consideration. I would have to make a very clear-cut selection of my work to ensure that the possibility of a response of this sort would in any case be eliminated. Quite simply this would have taken up too much of my time.
Well then, in fact I do want to make a sort of exhibition, not by placing things in a hall, but by doing something else. Something that is perhaps related to the matters that concern you as well. At least I hope so.

Before I begin I would first like to say something else. When someone makes a speech, it is taken for granted as it were that he must have an answer to certain questions or at any rate to the questions that his listeners have. This is one possibility. Another possibility is that someone who makes a speech has a question that his listeners have an answer to. As far as the first possibility is concerned, that is, whether you have questions that I have an answer to, I should tell you that my answer is 3. In other words, the question that concerns me is enormously complicated. And it is in order to find an answer that I make things and when these things are made they are able to function within the circus of the visual arts. But what comes prior to these things is in a certain sense more important than the things themselves. This means that, because I am concerned with making things when I pose these questions, the questions do not consist of words, but of objects. With how these objects manifest themselves. The origin of these phenomena is to be found in the image, in what I see, in what immediately occurs to me, before I have time to interpret it. To explain to you what occurs to me without interpreting it, I would have to show you what occurs to me. And that cannot be done. Therefore I am obliged to use words to explain what sort of images, what sort of phenomena, what sort of visible things can suddenly be generated in me. What it implies for my faculty of perception and what that in fact means.
The meaning of the things that go to make up the world of objects that is formed by our eyes or by our biological presence in the world is first of all formed by something that I would call a sort of natural landscape. Because as biological creatures we originate in the upper layers of the earth, our form has to do with the outer appearance of the earth. For this reason there is a certain connection between us and the rest of the world. It is therefore conceivable that a harmony exists on the basis of which we exist or might be able to exist. Now if we have enough to eat and drink and are no longer cold; if we have these three things, another series of transactions occurs that in any case conjures up an artificial landscape. Technology is a part of this. Many people think that this artificial landscape is not harmonious. And then in a certain sense there is the question when exactly it went wrong.
Whenever I start thinking about a harmony like this, for instance in a discussion, I always get the feeling after half or three quarters of an hour that I could be someone from the 17th century. Someone who has somewhat romantic ideas about harmony. In order to avoid this I will mention some of the elements of that artificial landscape. Not as an explanation or as a text, but more as a sort of set of footnotes. I think that this is also appropriate, because I have observed that in the few books of philosophy that I have seen, there are also a fair number of footnotes. Sometimes the whole left hand page is set aside for notes. A number of footnotes that form a sort of encyclopaedia, a sort of content that sustains me. Footnotes that when taken as a whole will I hope at any rate conjure up an image. In this sense the sequence of footnotes that I am going to offer you is a sort of exhibition. Elements of an artificial landscape. Not all of them are material elements and not all of them are entirely material. Because that’s not possible.

To begin with I would like to say something about cranes.

If we look at a crane from a distance, we see a piece of machinery which can clearly be used to shift a load. That the load can be raised and swung to the left or right. What we see then is that things can as it were be shifted on behalf of our bodies, things that we are not obliged to shift, but which we would also not be able to shift by ourselves.
In a certain sense a crane is a sort of function that pertains to a very powerful person. It has come into existence on the basis of a long technological history and a complicated sort of need to shift something from A to B. Many people think that the history of the logic of making something is always old. This is not the case. And this will, I hope, become clear from the things that I am about to recount.

The second element that I want to say something about is Buckminster Fuller. Buckminster Fuller is a man from the USA who has in a certain sense changed our thinking about construction. Not by changing our way of thinking in itself, but by applying another method of calculation to the forms in which it is manifested.

Cranes, for example, have specific dimensions and a specific precision. If this precision could be increased by a factor of 10 or a hundred, then the things themselves, the forms that result from this increased precision will have a different appearance. And Buckminster Fuller is a man who thought about this question. In the way that he conceived of technological things, including household articles, things for houses, bathrooms, cars, everything, he applied a method of thinking that was more precise than it had previously been. This meant that these things began to look different. Someone might of course say that that was all very well but the form concepts must also change with them. This is true of course, but these form concepts could only come into being because Buckminster Fuller had applied a new method of calculation. I consider this to be quite remarkable. I understand it, but even so I still think it is … incomprehensible. The fact that it is possible for a phenomenon to change if one makes a different sum.

Something very different from this, for instance, is the wood carving on the altar of the church in Xanten. Xanten is a small town on the lower Rhine. In the church there is an altar of hard wood. It is carved with religious scenes, but the work is not in relief. Or rather, they are reliefs but they are carved so deep that they become a sort of sculpture.
This wood carving is particularly curious in that we see it now with our eyes. And what makes it so incredible is that it is done by hand. It is so fragile and the carving is so refined. We cannot any longer imagine any way of being able to do this. It is not possible to imagine this way of carving wood as being an element of things that are made now. The fact is that things are no longer made in this way. In itself this is quite remarkable, because all that people at that time had at their disposal, apart from sharp chisels, a good feeling for the weight of a hammer, was a certain kind of patience and a certain kind of attention. The moment that I think or say something like this I get the feeling that I am making a criticism of our time when this sort of sophistication of form hardly exists any more, while at the same time everything is infinitely more complicated now. At least, so it seems. Nowadays in any case we know much more than people did then about how the world is. And perhaps it actually requires an element of ignorance about how the world is in order to achieve a higher level of refinement.

Something much more modern that also has an influence on the way the world appears is the felt pen.

Most of you in the audience, are holding a sort of stick. And if you apply that stick in a regular fashion to a sheet of paper, it produces stripes. From these stripes it is possible for other people to see what is on that piece of paper. This stick is something that is entirely taken for granted. It is possible that it has never occurred to anyone that this thing is an element for conveying knowledge. A small phenomenon that has to do with writing and the registration of thought processes.
Of course the elements that are used for writing have a whole history; what we have here, however, is a new element for writing. That is what the felt pen is. It made its appearance in the world more or less at the same time that I first began to draw. Twentytwo years ago a felt pen was called a ‘flowmaster’. It was a sort of long thick pen; it was shiny; it came with a small pot of ink and it looked a little bit dangerous. Like a small bomb. When you bought the pen it worked perfectly, but when you had to fill it, everything became black. Your hands. The surface of the pen. And your kitchen sink. In a certain sense that thing suggested that you couldn’t write with it. In the course of time the felt pen has been improved and made more amenable to use. And now everyone has a felt pen somewhere. When I wanted to draw with that thing it was in fact forbidden by the people who were trying to educate me. This was something quite odd, because with a felt pen you can’t give any texture to your hand, to your handwriting or to the way in which you touched the paper. It wasn’t possible to produce gradations of thickness. You always got the same flow of colour on the paper. The breadth of the strokes was more or less the same. Although the first of these pens weren’t efficient, they have become so now. But the complaints that people had about them then, I don’t hear these any more now. They are no longer relevant. This writing with equal strokes has simply become an element of the phenomena of drawings. So I don’t know whether anything has been lost as a result or if something new has been added.

Where something has in fact disappeared in the tradition of my profession, visual art, that is, is in technique. I mean technique as opposed to technology. (In Dutch the same word, techniek has various meanings, including both technique and technology, but also engineering. Translator’s note.)
Not the technology that produces a crane, but the technique, the way of doing something. In the older books about the art of painting there is at any rate some discussion about the secret techniques that were used by different schools and masters, at least by people who are now regarded as masters. About what these secrets were, what pigments they used and the order of precedence that these pigments had, and how these pigments were mixed on the palette. If you read a description of Edgar Degas’ palette, someone in fact who was active not so long ago, from the previous century, it is immediately noticeable that the man was exceeqingly knowledgeable about the materials he used. It is of course possible that an understanding of materials does not necessarily lead to craftsmanship. In any case up until the middle or the last part of the previous century the fact was that craftsmanship of this kind was a basic requirement. And that this was the basis that was necessary in order for genuine mastery to develop. And that in any case it was not possible for a painting to be beautiful if it began to deteriorate on the canvas after, say, eight years. Because then it did not exist any more.

In any case the visual arts have a very intricate history, and a very complicated sort of craftsmanship of which not much remains. This was due not so much to the fact that this paint existed, as that there were people who used this paint. By this paint I mean factory-made paint ready to use and in a tube- That in fact was done, more or less for the first time, by Vincent van Gogh. Perhaps people will think that Vincent van Gogh was important for another reason. I think in fact that this is the only reason why he was important. That he used paint straight from the tube. And that this was what was behind his craftsmanship, but he did not regard this as important. This can also be seen in his drawings. Although he was certainly able to draw he was not a craftsman in this field. Later when one comes to interpret the phenomenon of the work of Vincent van Gogh, what matters is the way that his gesture and his texture refer to his emotional constitution. And I sometimes even get the feeling that all that remains of the whole history of painting is a gesture like this.

Another element, another footnote, is the remarkable fact that at the beginning of this century the need of people to travel, by using a means of conveyance, led to the appearance of automobiles. A sort of horseless carriage initially, that could cover a distance on the road and which could transport people and goods from A to B. In my opinion, the outward form that these cars have taken makes them completely illogical. Specifically because they have an asymmetrical function while they are made symmetrically. In itself this is not so strange, but concurrently with the appearance of symmetrical cars something else occurred. This is the fact that houses that originally had been symmetrical for maybe three thousand years began to become asymmetrical round about 1910. And in fact they are now asymmetrical. I don’t know what this means, but I do know that it has taken place. There is an old painter, Richard Paul Lohse, who makes coloured squares and who argues that symmetry is in any case a monarchist phenomenon. This would perhaps explain why people get so much pleasure out of sitting in their symmetrical cars. Perhaps because it gives them a feeling of royalty.

There is something very strange about the functional aspect of technology. I think that it is an illusion to think that engineering and technology produce logical and functional things. Just think of this: a distant land where the population is perhaps poor, with not a great amount of food, and with agricultural methods that are maybe more or less primitive. These people are persuaded in one way or another to grow certain kinds of plants in this distant land. These plants are harvested and transported and end up here in very large chopping machines. This transport and these chopping machines require a considerable amount of technical knowledge: of cutting sharpnesses, of molecule thicknesses and all kinds of other things as well. But in the end the result of a whole process like this is that millions of people in a certain country are trying to give up smoking. Yes… a cigarette as a form is surely an indicator of the absurdity of the world.

There is however another function that explains why this happens. This is the need to earn money. I think that in the hierarchy of knowledge and learning a change has taken place. Or that it is possible to detect one. My point of departure is that there was once a time when philosophy for instance was a sort of mother of all forms of knowledge, was the source where everything came from, all knowledge and learning. In my opinion this is in itself not mistaken. It is however at any rate true that this is no longer the case. The situation now is that economics, which in my opinion is not a science, but a way of thinking that admittedly employs scientific methods, plays a more decisive role than does one’s grasp of a subject or any other specific quality. I don’t know if this is also significant, but a number of years ago on the 1000 guilder banknote, the painter Rembrandt was portrayed. And he is now replaced by the philosopher Spinoza. Is this due to the fact that everything that is printed on the money no longer has any meaning? I think that it is something like that. Because on the hundred guilder note there used to be an image of Michiel Adriaanszoon de Ruyter, for whom at least some people felt any respect, and on that note now there is a bird that is almost extinct. As far as that goes my idea might well make sense. There is therefore something illogical in the context within which functionality, and functional technology exist. These are illogical things that are maybe suggested by the existence of money. This is quite simply a fact. Money exists and most people covet it, in order to do things with it.

Something else that is very precious is diamonds. Two years ago I saw a photo of an enormous pit. A pit that was at least two kilometres long and perhaps a kilometre deep. In it there were a hundred thousand little stakes and ropes. And in this pit a great number of people were looking for something. It was a photo of a diamond mine in South Africa. I thought that it was so terrifying that so many people had made such a deep pit that I began to ask myself what a diamond really is. Of course I haven’t found the answer.

What I did discover is that a little stone like this, a glittering stone which does not however glitter any more than plenty of other stones, does not necessarily mean anything more than just that. In former times it certainly didn’t. A stone like this gives rise to human activities that are at first sight strange. Activities that an economist might describe as having to do with the law of supply and demand. That is all very well but that still doesn’t explain where the demand came from for people to want to possess such a tiny, brilliant and very well worked stone. It is in any case a fact that you can’t do very much with a diamond.

Another list that in itself also consists of a list concerns how one generates a comfortable temperature. There is something strange about this. I am alive now and in my life things occur that give me the energy I need to make things. I will give a short account of what has happened. When I was a little boy, we had a stove at home. This was fueled with peat. And there was an oven. This was lighted with a heap of twigs with peat on top. This served both as a means of heating and for cooking at the same time. That is just one illustration. Around 1950 there was another stove in our house. This one didn’t work on peat, nor on twigs; it had to be heted with coal nuggets. And briquettes. In 1955 there was a new stove in the room once again. This was called a ‘solid fuel stove’ and it was heated with anthracite. About 1960 the solid fuel stove had to go. It was replaced by an oil heater. An oil heater, that’s what it was called. Round about 1965 the oil heater also turned out not to work so well and a gas stove had to take its place. And around 1972 almost everyone in Holland had central heating with all its benefits. It was possible to live and work in all the rooms, etc. But in 1973 there was an energy crisis and in 1975 everyone, or at least, very many people, had once more converted those old chimneys where the stove stood and turned them into fireplaces to give a little extra heat. And to save energy. In 1980 for people who found an open hearth like this difficult, a projecting stove has appeared that has in recent years developed into a multiburner in which one can also burn twigs and peat. Whether this is logical or not, I don’t know. But it is definitely what has happened.

Something that is in fact logical, is the fact that there are screws. A piece of iron and then another piece or iron that you can wind round each other. And which fit. When you see such a logical little thing with which you can do so many things, you might think that a screw is very old. But that isn’t the case. It is true that screws existed, but the fact that one nut was interchangeable with another, is something that only came about in the 19th century. It is only since the war that there have been two or three systems for how the nuts and the bolts fit.
But the fact is that when you put a bolt in your pocket, and you buy a nut in Italy, they will fit each other. There is something very strange about this. It means that elements in the world have become mutually interchangeable. The only question is whether a thing like this did not have something like that as a consequence for humanity.

The last thing that I want to talk about is the horizon. If we take a look outside we see at the end of the world that the sky changes into ground. I have spent some time studying how this works. Especially at sunset. You can work out how far away the horizon is but this doesn’t explain how the sun goes down behind it.

There is no doubt that the sun does go down. And I can imagine that in earlier times this would be a moment of terror for primitive people. An instinctive moment for which one would need to have extra protection or shelter. What the horizon suggests to me is the idea that we as followers of this primitive way of thinking, as creatures with the faculty of looking, once upon a time came to realize that that same sun also rises.
I don’t know how long ago it is that human beings became human beings, but I can definitely guess what moment of the day it happened. In the evening, when the sun goes down.

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Wim Crouwel….SM Gedrukt in Japan / 1967

Wim Crouwel is a regular name appearing in my blog. This is not only because i have many titles available at www.ftn-books.com, but mainly because i consider Wim Crouwel the most important graphic designer from last century. There are some that are important too and i think of Gerstner and Sandberg, but Wim Crouwel is in my opnion the absolute best. Wim Crouwel made some 200+ designs between 1960 and 1980 for the Stedelijk Museum, Among them posters, catalogues an folders and many have become iconic for graphic design in the Sixties. There was of course the VORMGEVERS catalogue which is in high demand and extremely hard to find, but the one i would like to discuss now is the GEDRUKT IN JAPAN catalogue, which has become rare and expensive too. It is of great graphici quality and although it is only 20 pages, for me it is the summit in design from the sixties. A simple but highly effective lay out. The use of Magenta on the front . The SM logo and underneath a very very fine line with below it one of the logo’s for the Osaka Art Festival . Published in 1967 with no. 407……it is perfection on the 20 pages.

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Jackson Pollock and the Stedelijk Museum.

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Willem Sandberg was the fan and admirer who initiated the first presentations of Jackson Pollock in Europe. The Stedelijk Museum presented on several occasions his art and during these exhibitions made acquisitions resulting in some of the most iconic and important paintings in their collection. Among them is REFLECTIONS OF THE BIG DIPPER from 1947.

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Reflection of the Big Dipper consists of built up layers of paint with dripped enamel as the final touch, concluding the composition. It was around 1947 that Jackson Pollock traded in his brushes for sticks, trowels and knives and began adding foreign matter, such as sand, broken glass, nails, coins, paint-tube tops and bottle caps to his canvases. From this point on, Pollock’s application of paint became his main theme, which he tried to radicalize. With the body of work he thus created, Pollock found a unique position within the concurrent Abstract-Expressionist movement. Reflection of the Big Dipper was exhibited at the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1948, along with sixteen other paintings by Jackson Pollock. The show received positive reviews. Pollock’s works from this time are a transitional step between a more traditional handling of paint and his revolutionary technique of dripping paint on canvases off a large scale.

www.ftn-books.com has a nice selection of Stedelijk Museum  publications on Jackson Pollock available.

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Michelangelo Pistoletto (1933)

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I know his work and recognize it by his reflecting surfaces and mirror like qualities , but Pistoletto is much more than an artist who uses a “Gimmick”. Now , 85 years of age he has proven to be one of the most influential Italian artists from the last century and his works have spread all over the world . (I even have illy collection cups by Pistoletto in my collection ;-).

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Why is he, i think, so important?…. Probably this is because he stayed true to his art and has developed it into a very personal and recognizable form which is now appreciated by many. Pistoletto had had his exhibitions in the Netherlands in the van Abbemuseum and Stedelijk Museum and has built steadily an appreciative audience because of these exhibitions in the Netherlands since his earliest one at the van Abbemuseum in 1986. Arte Povera is Pistoletto ….and within his works he brings together Fluxus and conceptual art. The admiration of Bacon started his art career, but since he has walked his own path of “REFLECTION”.

Here are some of the books www.ftn-books.com has on Pistoletto in collection

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“Negerkunst uit Centraal Afrika”

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Yesterday morning there was an article in the Volkskrant about the way art in museums by colored people and minorities must be described . The reason why the dutch museums are also looking for a desirable idiom is that also in dutch history there is a part of their history which is very doubtful. The catalogue which is in the title is the example which was given in the article ( available at www.ftn-books.com ). The exhibition was in those days, (which is very recent history) announced by the journalists and museum as “primitive art by natives inspired by western civilization a way of announcement as if we in Western Europe were civilized and others not.” A complete wrong way of describing the art from these artists. On the positive side…Sandberg was the one who thought these artists deserved a museum platform in the Stedelijk Museum as early as 1957. which was the place for these artists where they could, for the first time, present and show their art , side by side with Malevich and Mondrian. I can really understand why some words and expressions can not be used any longer, however …where a museum decides to remove an object from an exhibited collection and with this action denying some of the history from a country, should not be done…. in my opinion a better way would be to keep it within the collection and add an explanation why the museum thinks different nowadays about an object . This way explaining and not judging. Let the public judge for itself if the object is still beautiful or not.

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Friedensreich Hundertwasser (1928-2000)

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The first time i encountered Hundertwasser his work was in an exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the first thought was…..he copies Klimt!

At that time i did not not know much about him, but when you read more and see more of his works you begin to realize that Hundertwasser is as original as Klimt was.

The difference is some 70 years between these 2 artists, but the background, influences and education are all well rooted in the city of Vienna from the beginning of the 20th century. This explains the similarities which one can find in many cases between the works by Klimt and Hundertwasser.

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If ever you visit Wien , the Hundertwasser Haus is an absolute must. There are so many aspects about the house and its architecture , that it is impossible to describe it in this blog. However there is a great article on the architecture on the house on the site of the Hundertwasser House;

http://www.hundertwasser-haus.info/en/blog/2011/07/19/the-house-should-not-be-measured-by-normal-standards/

and yes… for the enthousiast collector, ww.ftn-books.com has some nice publications in its inventory including the Wim Crouwel designed Stedelijk Museum one