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Poetic Black

Start Date 09 September 2017
End Date 25 March 2018
Venue Kunstmuseum Den Haag
Location Netherlands

“Black is modest and arrogant at the same time. Black is lazy and easy — but mysterious.” – Yohji Yamamoto 

Black – the colour that Isaac Newton eliminated from the spectrum in the late 17th century – carries many meanings for artists and designers. This new exhibition in the Vincent Award Room, entitled Poetic Black, brings the various aspects of black together in paintings, prints, fashion designs and poetry; the intriguing array of exhibits draws both on the Gemeentemuseum’s own holdings and on the Monique Zajfen Collection. 

Black is not just dark and mysterious. Black makes things abstract and can be used, as in the work of Polish painter Wilhelm Sasnal, to reduce a figure to a silhouette. In Sasnal’s paintings of deserted landscapes or empty playing fields at night, black also generates a sense of poetic melancholy. American artist Lee Bontecou, the subject of a recent major solo exhibition at the Gemeentemuseum, uses black to draw attention to material and texture: leather, muslin, velvet and iron. In her work, black holes also refer to the infinite and mysterious. 

Wear black and you instantly become a talking head: a disembodied intellect. Black was the uniform colour worn by 19th-century poets and in 1846 French poet and art critic Charles Baudelaire expatiated on the beauties of the black suit. In the past, black had been the colour of mourning, of Protestantism, of court culture and of wealth; in the 19th century, black apparel became a veritable fad among all social classes and colour vanished from the streets. Painter Edouard Manet dressed accordingly, but so did the rag-and-bone men of his time. Black was the colour of modernity; to pass unnoticed and become one with the masses, you wore black. 

In the 1980s, Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto harked back to the 19th-century fashion in over-sized, tattered black outfits. His collections were labelled ‘Hiroshima chic’. Not much later, Flemish designer Ann Demeulemeester based her women’s suits on them. 

And what does black signify today? The colour that pedants call a non-colour is as cool, feisty and uncompromising as ever. But above all, black says – as Yamamoto puts it – ‘I don’t bother you – don’t bother me.’ 

Monique Zajfen Collection & The Vincent Award 

De Monique Zajfen Collection is a contemporary art collection belonging to the Broere Charitable Foundation. It contains work by top contemporary artists like Marlene Dumas, Luc Tuymans, Thomas Schütte and Stephan Balkenhol. The basis of the collection consists of acquisitions of work by winners of the Vincent Award, a biennial prize for European contemporary art. Launched by the Broere Charitable Foundation in 2000, the Vincent Award was established in memory of Monique Zajfen, a beloved friend of the Broere family and former holder of Galerie 121 in Antwerp. It was her commitment to and passion for contemporary art that inspired the Broere Charitable Foundation to institute the award and to seek to encourage artistic talent in Europe. 

Since 2014, the Monique Zajfen Collection has been on long-term loan to the Gemeentemuseum Den Haag. The museum holds twice-yearly exhibitions featuring items from the Monique Zajfen collection together with works from its own holdings. These exhibitions are held in the Gemeentemuseum’s dedicated Vincent Award Room.