Madelon Vriesendorp’s world is a rewarding place to visit, writes Shumi Bose
The World of Madelon Vriesendorp: Paintings/ Postcards/Objects/Games, until 8 February at the Architectural Association, London WC1
Madelon Vriesendorp is – apart from being co-founder of OMA, and a sensitive, playful artist – married to Rem Koolhaas, and this fact precedes most in-roads to her art.
Initially, the current exhibition at the AA does little to challenge this preconception. When entering ‘The World of Madelon Vriesendorp’, the first thing you see is Flagrant Délit, the painting which graced the cover of Koolhaas’ Delirious New York (1978) and which shows the Chrysler and the Empire State Building caught in bed by the Rockefeller. This work is often cited as having been commissioned by Koolhaas, negating
Vriesendorp’s founding role in OMA. In fact, it existed long before the practice, and the proceeds from Vriesendorp’s art sales funded Koolhaas’ early paper architecture. Vriesendorp’s shaping of OMA’s architectural approach is clarified in the main room, where scattered between the ‘Bad Paintings’
and the ‘Superpainting’ – a work created for the show – are an immense collection of American postcards from the last 40 years. This collection, which inspired the style and content of Vriesendorp’s paintings, began in the early ’70s when Koolhaas and Vriesendorp discovered a mutual love of Americana. This translated itself into OMA’s (much-copied) practice approach, where disparate cultural facets feed into the design. Vriesendorp’s pre-OMA work reveals that her penchant for surrealistic juxtaposition was in place before her collaborations with Koolhaas. Sketches feature wolves, nymphs
and stallions frolicking in the moonlight, hinting at dark, if not Freudian symbolism.
The AA’s upper room contains the Mind Game installation, where viewers are encouraged to rearrange pieces (a foot, a building maquette which has become a set of steps, a woman’s torso) to inspire sketches by the artist. The remainder of the room is filled with a collection of stuff – aliens, singing peanuts, brand mascots, cartoon characters, tourist knicks and novelty knacks, with a formidable
Vriesendorp claims that being the youngest in her family gives her the freedom to believe that she can ‘go on playing forever’, and indeed the compulsion is irresistible as you are faced with the thousands of toys and figurines. However Vriesendorp does not collect for the sake of kitsch, but rather for a
quality of failure, where plastic mass miniaturisation creates a joke, rather than homage. This failure makes attempted ambition all the more poignant. Lost in the crowd is a model of Koolhaas’ CCTV in Beijing; tiny and grey, is its presence a rebuke to Koolhaas’ bombastic success, or a tribute? It is a testament to Vriesendorp’s sense of humour that you cannot tell.
Though her contemporaries have built buildings and published books with all the compromise that entails, Vriesendorp has remained in the swim of ideas. As a result, this exhibition feels fresh, and long overdue.