Melanchotopia, Witte de With

September 2 - November 27, 2011

Witte de With’s Melanchotopia is an exhibition that invites more than forty international artists to work with different venues in the city-center of Rotterdam – places where people live and work – and to activate their potential as spaces for ideas, discourse and invention.
From large-scale interventions to very simple gestures, Melanchotopia supports a range of artistic practices that go beyond the classical approach to displaying art in public space. Working with the existing dynamics of the city, Witte de With’s intention is to bring forward the diverse layers of daily life in Rotterdam, creating a rich framework for subjective encounters. It is an exhibition about the reality of Rotterdam.
Today, Rotterdam seems to be on hold between its past and its future: filled with nostalgia for the pre-WWII city and in wait for the utopian future, which is perpetually stalled in unfinished developments and reconstructions. Projections about yesterday and tomorrow drive the image of the city, that seems to lack a present. Melanchotopia performs the present of the city through the specific practice of each artist.
Over the course of the exhibition Witte de With’s galleries will be reconfigured to become the epicenter of Melanchotopia. The projects, which spread throughout Rotterdam’s center, are brought together via a graphic mapping. Besides its new function as an information center, Witte de With will be equipped with a designed bookshop and an auditorium dedicated to a sideprogram of lectures and artist talks. Here is available the exhibition guide with Melanchotopia map. The comprehensive educational program provides guided tours, art encounters and a special audio tour.

Michael van den Abeele
Saâdane Afif
Harold Ancart
Danaï Anesiadou
Sven Augustijnen
Dirk Bell
Michael Beutler
Guillaume Bijl
Pierre Bismuth
Monica Bonvicini
George van Dam
Thea Djordjadze
Jean-Pascal Flavien
Olivier Foulon
Murray Gaylard
Filip Gilissen
Adam Gillam
Arnoud Holleman
Peter Hutton
Adrià Julià
Leon Kahane
Erik van Lieshout
Minouk Lim
Sarah Morris
Alex Morrison
Kate Newby
Ricardo Okaranza
Henrik Plenge Jakobsen
Nina Pohl
Tomo Savić-Gecan
Markus Schinwald
Slavs and Tatars
Mårten Spångberg
Tobias Spichtig
Nasrin Tabatabai & Babak Afrassiabi
Zin Taylor
Harald Thys & Jos De Gruyter
Octavian Trauttmansdorff
Kostis Velonis
Lidwien van de Ven
Peter Wächtler
Lawrence Weiner.

curated by: Nicolaus Schafhausen and Anne-Claire Schmitz
Curatorial assistants: Thomas Cuckle, Amira Gad, Fabian Schoeneich and Sam Sterckx.

The Dutch Take to the Streets
by David Ulrichs 09/20/11, Art in America
Last week at Rotterdam's Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art, artists, collectors, curators and a handful of dealers celebrated the opening of "Melanchotopia," a group exhibition organized by the institution at public and commercial locations across the city. The show comes on the eve of severe national budget cuts that will affect the Netherland's cultural sector (although the structure of Witte de With, which is in part privately financed, will remain largely intact). Belgian collector Wilfried Cooreman remarked, "with this exhibition Witte de With is taking to the streets to show that art can still connect with the public." Although the exhibition doesn't overtly address the economy or the politics of austerity, some of the artists have chosen to show works that critique these issues. On the outside of the Witte de With building, Alex Morrison has installed a gas lamp resembling the official UNESCO heritage label designed to protect monuments or objects of cultural value in times of conflict.

The artists made a strong showing of support. "Of the 42 participating artists, I counted 38 here tonight," Berlin-based architect Roger Bundschuh told A.i.A. They included Pierre Bismuth, Thea Djordjadze, Saâdane Afif and Lawrence Weiner. It was a largely BeNeLux-crowd. Brussels-collector Frédéric de Goldschmidt noted, "I was surprised that half of Brussels was in Rotterdam, at least half of the downtown artsy crowd." The exhibition is one of the last overseen by Nicolaus Schafhausen as director of the Witte de With, who will concentrate on writing projects before taking a new position.

On opening day, a crowd gathered around the Witte de With before dispersing into the city as if on an egg hunt. Indeed, works turned up in unusual locations. Highlights included Monica Bonvicini's Tears (2011), a life-size, hollow strap-on made from Murano glass, installed on a pedestal in a sex shop. Sven Augustijnen's film School for Pickpockets (2000), featured two pickpockets teaching their tricks to a young man, installed in a "night shop," open only after 5 p.m. Guillaume Bijl's Five Historical Hats (2011) consists of five found hats, labeled with the names of five historical figures, such a Winston Churchill and Charlie Chaplain in museum-like vitrines, placed on the first floor of an old-fashioned milliner's.

In the evening, Brussels-based violinist George Van Dam premiered his Music for Melanchotopia, an hour-long set of musical pieces for strings and a soprano at the city's municipal theatre. On the way back from the theater to the museum, the art crowd stumbled upon the highpoint of the opening evening: the hoisting by a crane of Filip Gilissen's light sculpture, measuring roughly 30 by 40 feet that flashed intermittently and read It's All Downhill From Here On-a fitting slogan in these days of economic turmoil. It remained suspended about 40 feet high, flashing on the corner of Karel Doormanstraat and Crispijnstraat for the duration of opening night, and will be remembered by performances of a key-chain vendor selling golden trinkets of the sign for $7 a pop.

The next day, the pilgrimage home brought visitors past a re-located version of Lawrence Weiner's AS LONG AS IT LASTS in the passenger tunnel of Rotterdam Central Station. Originally inscribed on the country's tallest tower, the Euromast, in 1993, its message about acquisition, labor, waste and humanity is more fitting than ever.