Beginning March 20, 2010, Amsterdam Historical Museum
(AHM) presents one of the most extraordinary works of art of the twentieth century: The Hoerengracht. This gigantic piece by Edward Kienholz (19271994) and Nancy Reddin Kienholz (b. 1943), which has been exhibited around the world, features as the central attraction until the summer of 2010 in a show examining the connection between art and the part of Amsterdams old medieval centre known as the Wallen. This is the first appearance in Amsterdam of The Hoerengracht, which is inspired by the citys world-famous Red Light District.
The Hoerengracht has come to Europe as part of a joint project by the National Gallery (NG) in London and Amsterdam Historical Museum. After the National Gallery exhibition, until 21 February, The Hoerengracht moves to Amsterdam.
It is in Amsterdam that The Hoerengracht comes into its own, not just as an amazing work of art, but indeed as a historical document. American husband and wife Edward Kienholz and Nancy Kienholz Reddin worked in Berlin in the 1980s. It was there that they assembled this massive work of art, measuring over 13 by 7 metres, and more than 3 metres high. The Hoerengracht is both an extract and an interpretation of Amsterdams red light district, which viewers are able to actually walk though. When they were making the work, the artists asked themselves questions that remain relevant to this day: What do we think about prostitution? Should it be legal, regulated, tolerated or prohibited? Edward and Nancy Kienholz were fascinated by the openness with which prostitution was organised in Amsterdam. Although it was not until 2000 that prostitution was legalised, it was already publicly tolerated in the 1980s.
The prostitutes shown in The Hoerengracht are modelled on the bodies of friends of the Kienholzes in Berlin. They have glass boxes over their shop-window heads, symbolising the fragmentation of the female body in todays consumer society.
The work is not a literal reconstruction, rather an imaginary scene based on the reality of the brothel rooms with a touch of Surrealism, as the New York Times noted. The details in this consummate highlight of assemblage art are quite fascinating. Not only does The Hoerengracht pose questions about the borderline between whats in and whats out, it brings the actual borderline into question. This confrontation with sex workers, inducing passers-by to gaze through the window, forces people to think and reflect. Who are these women? What do I think about Amsterdams window prostitutes?
Amsterdam Historical Museum has taken the opportunity of this presentation of The Hoerengracht in Amsterdam to compile an exhibition examining recent changes in the red light district, and in particular the role artists have played in the latest developments.
Amsterdam municipality recently launched a coalition project entitled 1012.
The name refers to the postal code of this part of the inner city. The project is designed to reduce crime and the trade and exploitation of women while at the same time promoting economic diversity in the Wallen (the Dutch name for the Red Light District). The number of window prostitutes is set to halve, and many of the coffee shops that sell soft drugs will be closed. A documentary will be shown in the exhibition in which Nancy Kienholz investigates the changes in the red light district.
At the same time, the presentation also features a selection of works about prostitution. A key concept in the show is Role Exchange, the title of a legendary work by Marina Abramovic, who documented on video and in photos how she swapped roles with a prostitute for a number of hours in 1975. Marieken Verheyens installation Red Light also invites the viewer to swap places with a prostitute for a moment. This installation was one of the most astonishing exhibits in Amsterdam Historical Museums cultural-historical show Love for Sale: Four Centuries of Prostitution in Amsterdam (2002).
The focus of the final part of the exhibition is on the current transformation of the red light district and the role artists play in this. Fashion and jewellery designers have taken the place of prostitutes in parts of Amsterdams red light district.
Role Exchange by Abramovic was the inspiration for RED A.i.R.|Redlight Art Amsterdam, a project which took place in the former brothel rooms in Korsjespoortsteeg and Bergstraat for several months in 2009. Finally, visitors to the exhibition will get a taste of what the Wallen will be in the future, and will have an opportunity to offer their own response.