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On Summer May 2023

Artist Jasper Krabbé on curation and creation for Amsterdam’s ARTZUID

A few weeks ago, we were officially introduced to Dutch artist Jasper Krabbé when he opened the doors of his eye-catching studio on the outskirts of Amsterdam. During the Sculpture Biennial ARTZUID, which officially kicks off on May 20, we will turn the tables. For the entire duration of the exhibition taking place throughout Amsterdam’s picturesque Oud-Zuid neighborhood, Jasper will show a scale model of the monumental sculpture he made for the event in the AM House on Beethovenstraat.

In addition to participating as an artist, Krabbé is also the curator of the 2023 edition of the exhibition – his first time as curator, let alone on this scale. But despite (or because of) the potential novelty, this new role clearly shows the same cultural influences that shaped him as an artist and continue to inspire him as a human being to this day. Representing how curiosity plays a crucial role in his artistic practice and how raising new questions is crucial for him to keep growing.

On the eve of ARTZUID’s official opening, we captured him at his impressive new sculpture, which evokes a totally new feeling compared to his painted portraits. In the conversation that follows, Jasper takes us through the creative process behind the sculpture, his vision for the selection of the 50 works shown in the exhibition, and how the project will help him open up new frameworks for new ambitious developments in the future.

You are best known for your portraits, which we talked about in detail last time. With your new sculpture, made especially for ARTZUID, you pay a much more abstract tribute to another artist: Jean-Michel Basquiat.

In any case, he was the impetus for the work. I now see it more as an ode to universal artistry. But the trigger was Jean-Michel Basquiat, indeed. That started in Paris, years ago, when I saw the big retrospective of his work at the Centre Pompidou. On the roof of the Pompidou you have a restaurant and that’s where I stood after seeing the exhibition. It has a spectacular view over the city and then I saw the church tower Tour Saint-Jacques which is the only one still standing of the 16th-century church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie.

On all four corners of that steeple are statues, and on one of those corners is a lion with wings: a symbol of strength, and the city of Venice, among other things. It represents something supernatural. The lion is the king of the animal kingdom, but it cannot fly. That makes the lion with wings the ultimate king. Basquiat, who like me started on the streets with graffiti, and eventually evolved into one of the most influential artists of all time. He did things that didn’t exist at that time, especially as a black artist. As I stood there, I realized he was a lion with wings and I made a drawing of that winged lion figure with some text attached. And I never forgot about that sketch.

Then the situation arose that I wanted to make a sculpture of that memory. That wasn’t just the lion with wings. It also included the street scene. The feeling of the streets was also part of my perception. At that time, I had just moved to my studio in Zaandam and with the leftover things I found there I set to work. I ended up using pallets, I used clay to create a tree and I cut out the lion figure out of Styrofoam. This made it a kind of “objet trouvé,” with which I made that drawing on the roof of the Pompidou spatial. Although the work is called “JMB on Tour Saint-Jacques,” during the process Basquiat became more of a symbol of artistry. About how as an artist you face headwinds and you have to keep believing in yourself and your vision to find the strength to stay afloat.

It is also reminiscent of the work of Jean Dubuffet.

Indeed, the work is also kind of an ode to his work. In my role as curator of ARTZUID, I also placed a work by him in the same field, not entirely coincidentally. In my mind, his work is also closely related to the work of Keith Haring, even though Haring never acknowledged that. The linear strength that both artists have inspired me to seek more abstraction as well. I do see Dubuffet as an underrated artist as well. So, this was also a great opportunity to select a work and make his influence visible again in my own work.

I then wanted to combine those lines with the colors of the tables on which the lion stands, which are reminiscent of De Stijl. Those little tables ended up being quite unstable. As I went to cast the sculpture in bronze, the feet of the tables were deformed by transport. And so, they had to be kept straight with wedges, which stayed on for the casting process. That eventually became a very subtle detail which I really liked. We could have taken that away, but I thought it was very beautiful that a kind of unsteadiness arose in the process. It illustrated the concept of artistry even better. The precariousness of it all. When the lion with wings defies artistry, in all its strength, it is doing so by standing on a very wobbly little table. I thought the idea that that table could collapse at any moment was a very nice element that coincidently became part of the sculpture.

It’s interesting that both Basquiat and Haring are also artists who started on the street and eventually found recognition in the museum world.

There is definitely a connection to my own past in graffiti, indeed. Although of course there is also the classic side in my upbringing. I once exhibited at Slot Zeist and there I hung my sneakers on one of those classically ornamented lamps. I still see that as an apt metaphor for who I am as an artist: those two worlds coming together.

Is there a common thread you’ve wanted to bring into the curation for ARTZUID?

It’s about the unifying power of art and in particular the influence of Pop Art and the genres that came directly from it. How in the times we live in, the image is trying to seduce us in all sorts of ways. The image is more influential than ever, you could argue. This development began with Andy Warhol and eventually revolutionized the frameworks of art. The curation I made are all artists who are or have been working with the legacy of the Pop movement. Be it in color, in material, effect, or thought. Besides big names like Robert Indiana, Karel Appel and Sterling Ruby, I specifically offered a lot of space for Dutch artists and the talent that is around here but doesn’t always get a platform. I’ve really tried to represent a wide range of artists, all of whom relate in some way to Pop’s influence and approach.

In this, we’ve also always tried to create a kind of interaction between different works on the route. I really hope that people will experience it that way. That they will walk the route and feel those connections. Between the sculptures, the different ideas, but also the public space of Oud-Zuid. ARTZUID is not a route that is exclusive to the people in Oud-Zuid. I feel it gives a special and accessible perspective on art, but also the city district. It is truly for everyone to be enjoyed.

Combining these art works with the public space feels both a great metaphor for you as an individual, having started ‘on the street’, and also your ambition to show the importance of the Pop element within the arts as a cultural movement.

A work by Boris Tellegen is also part of the route. This is someone I stood next to as a teenager with a spray can in my hand. The fact that decades later there is still a “dialogue” going on between us, shows that when we were young a new era was then being ushered in. An era in which cultural exchange became much more natural. In art, music, and clothing. That’s what this edition of ARTZUID is about, how Pop Art was another precursor to that development. And how someone like Jean-Michel Basquiat was a pioneer of that movement. This route is for everyone. The engagement with that concept also stimulated levels of liberation in myself. I am very content that we have captured this moment together, wearing the tuxedo in a way that I feel comfortable with.

You also made the larger sculpture for ARTZUID available for ‘everyone’ by creating a series of smaller editions which can be seen (and bought) in our store on Beethovenstraat.

For me, art is about connecting people and making that connection available to as many people as possible. I see that fully reflected in the public route of ARTZUID, but also in that series of smaller sculptures. I already know that I am going to draw a lot of energy from that again for the future. Being involved in these things has shifted my artistic frameworks and energy to connect again in a very positive way. I’m proud, happy, and curious to see what it will bring me in the future to come.

The editions of the “JMB on Tour Saint-Jacques” sculpture are limited to 40 and are available for €2950,- including VAT, directly through ARTZUID. All information is available at the AM House Amsterdam on Beethovenstraat 9.

Want to know more?

Check out our interview with Jasper to learn more about his life and works.