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First Ever Major Museum Retrospective of Work by Berlin-based Artist Tjebbe Beekman
Tjebbe Beekman, Oration, 2008, acrylic, enamel, wire and sand on canvas on panel, 150 x 207 cm, Collectie de Heus – Zomer.

THE HAGUE.- The Gemeentemuseum presents the first ever major museum retrospective of work by Berlin-based artist Tjebbe Beekman (b. Leiden, 1972), who is well-known for his supercharged paintings of inner-city architecture. The exhibition covers the period between 2003 and the present, focusing principally on Beekman’s latest cycle of paintings and drawings, entitled The Capsular Civilization.

The exhibition shows how earlier work by Tjebbe Beekman – who trained at the KABK in The Hague from 1993 to 1997 – led the way to his latest cycle. A typical example of this earlier work is Palast (2005), a painting based on the well-known Sozialpalast building in Berlin’s western district of Schöneberg. Beekman shows a number of floors of the dilapidated building, its rows of windows only occasionally interrupted by the circular shapes of satellite dishes. The handling of the paint gives the painting a lively, animated look, like big-city life itself.

Tjebbe Beekman employs a highly systematised creative process. First of all he uses photographs to make a collage, which he then uses as the basis on which to sketch out his composition. Next he lays the canvas on the floor and proceeds to apply a variety of gloss paints, gobs of oil paint, sand, string, and other waste materials. Lastly, he reconsiders the painting and paints over sections of it to give them greater emphasis and bring the final composition to life.

Although social criticism is present in his earlier work, it is far more prominent in the cycle of seventy sketches and five paintings entitled The Capsular Civilization. The title refers to that of a book by Lieven DeCauter, subtitled On the City in the Age of Fear. DeCauter’s main thesis is that the speed of contemporary technology and the ever more extreme polarisation of our society are forcing us to withdraw into the safe ‘capsules’ of our vehicles and architectural cocoons like shopping malls, gated communities and amusement parks. The seventy sketches, which can be regarded as illustrations accompanying the five paintings, constitute a picture atlas depicting ‘capsular phenomena’ of this kind and relating them to each other.

One of the most striking paintings in the cycle is Control Room, which shows innumerable blue screens casting their pale light into an otherwise almost entirely darkened room. You have to look carefully to see that there are human figures lurking behind the screens. This control room is keeping the whole outside world under surveillance but is itself entirely divorced from reality. In Beekman’s work, capsularization and control seem to breed a sense of isolation and lack of purpose, rather than the intended feeling of security. In pictures like this, Beekman conveys a not particularly rose-tinted view of the society in which we live.

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