A Hyperreal Artistic Spectacle

Amsterdam, July 2014

In the summer of 2014, Selby Gildemacher, Anja Groten, and myself were invited to curate the last week of a 10 week festival about ‘Lightness’ in Mediamatic. As we would be the grand finale of this series of exhibitions we wanted to create a spectacular event where people could enjoy art through entertaining attractions. ‘Pret Park’ (amusement park) is an art exhibition filled with superficial experiences as a method to talk about the value of sensationalism and entertainment in the cultural sector.

Marcel Wanders climbing the Stedelijk Museum as a ‘design-King Kong’. Image: Eigen huis & Interieur.

On February 1, 2014 the solo exhibition of designer Marcel Wanders opened in the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. An unexpected move, since the Stedelijk is known for exhibitions by cutting-edge artists like Mike Kelley, Steve McQueen, and Aernout Mik. Although Marcel Wanders is well-known and commercially successful, he is not considered relevant in the design world by most standards. When the magazine Vrij Nederland reported that same year that Wanders had donated €500.000 to the Stedelijk museum, both parties denied any relation between the donation and the exhibition. Above all, this exhibition in the Stedelijk is exemplary for the flirtatious behaviour of high brow art institutions with celebrities to boost visitor numbers.

Map of Pret Park. Design: Ruben Pater.

outrageous spectacles

The art world has a complex relationship with the spectacle. On the one hand there is a rise in blockbuster exhibitions, celebrity artists, and luxurious art fairs. On the other hand there is a lot of criticism about the influence of the entertainment industry and commerce in the art world. The Turbine Hall at the Tate modern is meant to display large spectacular works by artists like Anish Kapoor, Olafur Eliasson, and Ai Weiwei. Works sponsored by Unilever, created to overwhelm us with awe. The public wants to see spectacle, and expects no less of an art exhibition.

The Dutch government encourages spectacle through its new arts funding policy. Minister of Culture Bussemaker has argued that publicity reach and visitor numbers should play a larger role in public funding of art. This is the next step in quantifying the experience of art. An artistic vision is no longer enough to apply for funding. There needs to be hard evidence that visitors will line up to see this exhibition.

Pret Park exhibition. Photo: Ruben Pater.

diabolical amusement

Pret Park loves spectacle for all the right reasons, but it is critical as well. If art is forced to adapt to the ‘attention economy’, how can we expect to preserve its transformative and critical role? Pret Park created a space for artists and the public to investigate the concept of ‘lightness‘, the spectacle, and its possibilities.

There is no spectacle without the spectator. We asked the participating artists to turn Pret Park into a hyperreal landscape in which visitors get scared, amazed, lost, energized, disappointed, moved, curious and confused. Thirteen artists were involved to help create an amazing event, and many artworks were especially made for the exhibition.

Left: ‘Blindfold Rollercoaster‘, Frank Koolen, 2014. Right: ‘Pure Functions Drink Bar’, Hannes Bernard, 2014. Photos: Ruben Pater. ‘Mascot Lab’, Tessel Brühl and Jaroslav Toussaint, 2014. Photo: Ruben Pater.

unimaginable attractions

Yasser Ballemans (NL) showed his interactive sculpture ‘Wave’. Hannes Bernard (ZA) created three especially brewed refreshing energy drinks to enhance the Pret Park experience. Tessel Brühl (NL) and Jaroslav Toussaint (DE) created a special mascot during the week, Helmut Dick (DE) created a new sculpture titled ‘Order of the Angles’, and Frank Koolen (NL) performed a blindfold rollercoaster. Roel Nabuurs & Willem van Amerom (NL) brought their Insectenbar with snacks of horror, Stefan Schäfer (DE) built a selfie house of horror, Christoph Scherbaum (DE) showed his work ‘Juke Closet’, and Maartje Smits (NL) made a work about playful captivity. Vladimir Turner (CZ) showed his movie ‘Merry-go-round’ and created a terrorist photo opportunity. Yuri Veerman (NL) invited people to use his stardust machine, exchanging hard earned currency for spectacular destruction.

seductive playgrounds

Designed by Anja Groten, the floorplan offered three routes through the Pret Park, the Hyper-reality route, the Nerve-wracking route, and the Hyper-active route. Using the amusement park as a conceptual form, the routes and the space offered none of the physical elements of an amusement park (rollercoasters, large constructions, shops, wheels of fortune, rows of people) but rather its experiences and emotions printed on large banners hanging over the exhibition, and as hidden experiences at each interactive artwork.

Pret Park debate.

explosive hair-raising visions

During the exhibition we wanted to facilitate public participation and discussion, so we created a series of events. There were artist talks by Vladimir Turner and Helmut Dick, a selfie extension workshop by Stefan Schäfer and Selby Gildemacher, a mascotte workshop by Tessel Brühl and Jaroslav Toussaint, and a sound performance by Christoph Scherbaum followed by a screening of ‘Punishment Park’ (1971) by Jeffrey Babcock with snacks of horror by the Insectenbar. A debate was organized about the role of the spectacle in the art world and moderated by Annelys de Vet. We invited artists, curators, designers and directors to join the discussion and share their view on the artistic spectacle.

More photos on the Mediamatic page.

Curated and designed by Selby Gildemacher, Anja Groten, and Ruben Pater. Printing by the Stencilzolder, Amsterdam. Thanks to all the participating artists, Jurgen Bey, Annelys de Vet, and all the debate participants.
Funded by Mediamatic, Amsterdam.


Bibliography

Kan, Leslie. ‘Spectacle’, Theories of Media Glossary, University of Chicago, 2004.
Leclaire, Annemiek. ‘Portret: Marcel Wanders’. Vrij Nederland, 2013.
Kemmer, Claudia and Daan van Lent. ‘Bussemaker is te streng bij cultuursubsidies’. NRC Handelsblad, 2014