Is this contemporary art?

When one moves to a new city, it takes some time to integrate into the local community and learn of the interesting artistic realities that are present.

My experiences have taught me that no matter where you move —whether it’s Shanghai, Venice or Amsterdam— there is always that one gallery that everybody is talking about but you have yet to see. There is always that one artistic space impregnated by mysterious charm, with revolutionary exhibitions and talented artist.

Well, in my new life as an Amsterdammer, this space is a gallery known as W139 and until recently, it was the most frequent subject of my art conversations.

“Have you been to see the W139 yet?”

“No? Incredible! You absolutely have to go as soon as possible. “

My dialogues repeatedly ended like this, a feeling of disapproval from my interlocutor. I had not been to the W139 yet, shame on me.

I finally made it there a few weeks ago, on occasion of the new exhibit “Steam Bath“. For the first time I experienced this highly advocated space for myself. With expectations almost too high to fit through the doors and my notebook ready to be smeared with some confused notes, I started toward the main room, which was actually the only one dedicated to the exhibition.


The exhibition consisted of various objects scattered around the room: a plastic curtain similar to an igloo and some plants equipped with LED lights to facilitate their growth. In one corner a cup-shaped loudspeaker was hung from the ceiling above the visitor’s head like the sword of Damocles.



From there came the sound of what seemed to be an aerobics class with a super excited personal trainer, urging you to move and exercise. On the opposite side of the room there was a basic wooden shower (probably running). The entire area was completely enveloped in a thick blanket of steam coming from the igloo. The temperature was so high that, at times, it was difficult to breathe.


The result was a kind of Cyber-sauna: a primitive but effective ecosystem in which plants and humans live in harmony using the same energy resources.

Overall, the exhibit left me feeling a bit frazzled. However, even though the role of objects could be more or less identified (with some mental and breathing efforts necessary in order to fully experience the room), their physical output seemed rather superficial and incomplete.

Don’t get me wrong, the idea could be interesting at first sight: man and plant harmonizing in the same living space. A beautiful cybernetic spa for a new cult of the body. However, the setting proved to be poor and cheesy, with any compositional design emerging behind it. The objects appeared to be a set of elements placed there almost by accident, possibly the result of a dreamlike jumble. The rooms of the gallery not utilized for the current exhibition, was haphazardly covered by an orange tarps, sending off an “under construction” vibe.

The visitor was at the mercy of the chaos emerging from the shared walls of the artistic space. There were no signs and no explanations.


Now, we all know that contemporary art is not always so obviously at first glance. Sometimes it communicates through a complex language, with multiple levels of perception and sometimes it makes use of new and always provocative media. In other words, since Duchamp made his upside down urinal, we have learned that in a contemporary art exhibition you can expect pretty much ANYTHING, no holds barred.

Well, in this case, I had a sincere difficulty to understand what was a real part of the show and what was only a mediocre oversight from a distracting set-up. For instance, that crumpled orange tart covering the empty part of the tunnel: was it deliberately inserted in the artistic composition or was it just a slip by the construction worker? It wasn’t entirely clear.

I searched the website and the Facebook event page, I read all the material that was given to me in the gallery, but nothing.

I guess, it’s a question that will remained unanswered.

What a pity, though. It may have been a simple idea but it could have been very interesting. The overall impression was largely overlooked by a superficial and hasty set-up that used the raw contemporary language more as a pretext, to hide the flaws, than for a real need for content.



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