FOAM 2019: 'Zeen'
In the spring of 2019, Foam presented the largest museum solo exhibition of the artist duo Scheltens & Abbenes so far. The artists are seen as the most progressive still-life photographers in the Netherlands today. Maurice Scheltens (1972) and Liesbeth Abbenes (1970) have managed to build an international artistic practice at the intersection of commissioned and autonomous photography.
The exhibition draws the visitor into a sense of wonder at the things we encounter in daily life. In their studio, Scheltens & Abbenes analyse the essence of things by subjecting their anatomy to a meticulous and painstaking examination. Objects come to life by lifting them from their everyday context, framing and zooming in on them, in order to penetrate to their innermost core: a colourful powder patch, the sharp crease in a men’s shirt, rivets on a lorry. This is what the title of the exhibition refers to: ZEEN. This is a Dutch synonym for a tendon, which is a robust but pliable form of tissue that ties a muscle to the skeleton. It is a metaphor for how Scheltens & Abbenes zoom in on the inner dimension of an object, and then tie this to a greater whole. It also refers to displaying the characteristic features of an object at a very detailed level. Lastly, the title is a play on the words Zien, (Maga)Zine and Zen, all of which refer to paying attention, to concentrating, to being sensitive to details – which are all important elements in Scheltens & Abbenes’s oeuvre.
Photography emerged as an applied form of art that has gradually evolved into an autonomous art form as well. Scheltens & Abbenes’s work explores the intersecting field. This puts them firmly in the tradition of prominent Dutch product photographers such as Piet Zwart, who played with the flat surface of the photograph and the three-dimensionality of what he photographed, within a commercial context. Far from being dead objects, the items photographed by Scheltens & Abbenes are bursting with life, colour, beauty and power. The perspective of the camera is essential to their work: the carefully composed sets would immediately fall apart if the camera were to be positioned just a fraction to the left or the right.
The exhibition guides the visitor through an extensive oeuvre built up over the past 18 years. Scheltens & Abbenes also created a new video installation, specifically for Foam. Just as they treat the objects they photograph as building blocks for their final composition, they used their previous photographs as building blocks for this site-specific video installation. The installation perfectly captures their fascination for repetition, lines, surfaces and structures. In addition to the video, the exhibition comprises a large number of diptychs. Reproductions of magazine pages on which photographs by Scheltens & Abbenes were originally published are combined with large prints that have been taken out of context. Through these combinations, Scheltens & Abbenes examine the tipping point between commissioned and autonomous photography. This also shows how the different individual images in the various series relate to each other. The viewer is encouraged to look very carefully, and so to share the duo’s fascination for the structure of things at a micro-level.
Maurice Scheltens and Liesbeth Abbenes have been an artist duo since 2001. Maurice studied at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague, and Liesbeth Abbenes attended the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and the Rijksakademie van Beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam. Scheltens & Abbenes produced commissioned photography for fashion and design brands such as Paco Rabanne, Maison Margiela, COS, Hermes, Scholten & Baijings, Arper, Muller van Severen, Arita, Mutina and editorials for magazines including Fantastic Man, The Gentlewoman, Double, Pin-Up magazine, MacGuffin, The Plant and New York Times Magazine. They have had exhibitions at Jan Cunen Museum (2012), Huis Marseille (2013), De Kunsthal in Rotterdam (2013), Ravestijn Gallery (2018), Limart/Tokyo (2012), Palais Galliera Musée de la Mode Paris (2012),The Art Institute of Chicago (2013)en Three Shadows Gallery/Beijing (2015). The books On Display (2008), I Put This Here (2012), Le Style (2012) and Unfolded (2012) have all become collectors’ items. Scheltens & Abbenes won the ICP Infinity Award in New York (2012).
Simultaneously with the exhibition, the same-titled book Zeen was published by CASE Publishers (graphic design by Esther de Vries).