• Post-War and Contemporary Art auction at Christies

    Sale 2833

    Post-War and Contemporary Art

    1 December 2009, Amsterdam

  • Lot 187

    Jan Schoonhoven (1914-1994)

    R72 - 21

    Price Realised  


    Jan Schoonhoven (1914-1994)
    R72 - 21
    signed, dated and inscribed with title 'J.J. Schoonhoven/1972' (on the reverse)
    a white painted cardboard relief
    53 x 43 cm.

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    The Dutch Zero or Nul movement never had a common ideological starting point. Nul never revolted against abuse or inhumanities, like the members of Cobra, who were deeply disappointed by postwar society. Moreover, Nul was an optimistic movement. The members of Nul, (Schoonhoven, Peeters, Armando and Henderikse), aimed to unveil the beauties of modern reality, and not to comment on it, or even moralize it. They were of the opinion that a bridge should be built between art and society in an impersonal way, without involving any emotion. Ready mades, monochromes, seriality and repetition would become important sources of inspiration expressed with. The artists never cared too much about art, but sought to reproduce detached visual information.

    Jan Schoonhoven was to become the artist that would work most consistently in this manner. Schoonhoven concentrated on his famous white papier-mach/a compositions, only after five o'clock in the afternoon. Next to his artistic career, he had a full position with the PTT (the Dutch post). Similar as in his art, he had a compulsory need for regularity and order in his life and out of sheer necessity he hung on to it for such a long time. He found his definitive handwriting or style at the beginning of the 1960s: the varied reliefs next to drawings filled with systematic repetitions he produced in the evenings and during the weekends.

    By the end of the 1960's Jan Schoonhovens popularity was growing. Looking at works from this period, it is as though the personal element gradually withdrew and became even more dissolved by the system. The reliefs became more austere, more formal, harder and icy white. Around 1970 the pressure of work began to increase considerably. The demand for his reliefs grew, and Schoonhoven started to wonder about giving up his daytime job, so he would have more time for his art. Financially this would have no longer presented any problems. He decided that it was better for him to stay at work at this office, he was too attached to the rhythm, and furthermore what would he do if he didn't have to get up early in the morning and go to The Hague.

    When in 1968 in an interview, he was asked about the production by others he answerred: 'I wouldn't mind trying that for the fun of it. But the actual work, no. I have to make the whole work myself'. (J. Bernlef and K. Schippers, gesprek met J.J. Schoonhoven,, De Gids, 1968, no. 2/3 p. 130-140.) But gradually Schoonhoven got used to the idea of seeking assistance with the production of the reliefs. He realized that there were several advantages of this 'studio,' not only could he increase the production, he could also work on more ideas at the same time.

    Maybe more important than these practical aspects was the fact that this new working method was very much in line with Schoonhoven's political and philosophical ideas. His special relationship with uniformity and mass, the überpersönliche (the transpersonal) was very well reflected by the works from this period. The absence of hierachy, within the works as well as in the process of creation reflect the contradiction is his ideas. On the one side there is need to be a creative artist, on the other side there is his urge for an anti-hierarchical society in which he could mingle inconspiciously and anonymously.

    The present lot is an clear example Schoonhoven's search for perfection, as well as his inner struggles: His search for anonimity against the hand of the master, as well as the tendency to undermine his own created order. In the present lot from 1972 there is virtually no visual hierachy between top and botom, or left an right. The serial grid made from repetative horizontal shaped cubicals is probably his most iconic schemes.

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