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World of Madelon Vriesendorp: SAM Museum, Basel, 2009

JUNE 06, 2009

Better little Gestures - “The Madness of Madelon Vriesendorp”

Having viewed the disappointing Little Theatre of Gestures at the Kunstmuseum yesterday, it was a revelation to see significantly better little gestures in “The World of Madelon Vriesendorp” at Basel Architekturmuseum. I don’t think I know any of her architectural works, but this show of paintings, postcards, objects and games from 1967 to now is brilliantly exciting. It features watercolours, prints and films of New York iconic buildings in surreal landscapes engaged in sex, climbing through holes, crumbling, with the Statue of Liberty sometimes naked, sometimes sleeping, sometimes also crumbled and over topped. Setting out to collect bad paintings, endless collections of postcards of New York, kitsch objects of mind-numbing oddness the Vriesendorp wunderkammer is a Sir John Soanes museum for the 21st Century – apparently her house is full of this stuff; it’s as if an artist with talent made Gormley’s "Field for the British Isles", but more than that, this doll-world doesn’t care that you are there looking at it, it lives without the observer. The exhibition has that excitement you feel as a child in a model village or how museums used to be before the edicts of 'education' and worthiness.

Against this you have totally bizarre objects, a city of tiny failed objects – a smiling sketelon dog wearing a hat and smoking a pipe, a laughing nun on drugs, a shark eating a baby, King Kong atop the Empire State Building holding a naked mermaid – which nevertheless have the hysterical delight of jaw-drop wonderment that says “who the hell thought of manufacturing that?”.

- Tony Trehy

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