Every person has expectations when deciding to visit an exhibition, depending on how much you already know of the art on show beforehand. Still some artists manage to take you by surprise in doing something that raises different thoughts or feelings then you imagined. Dutchman Wim T. Schippers (1942) is such an artist, he has made installations that will leave you wondering for why and how etc.
Schippers is a versatile creator far-famed for his writing, acting, composing, directing and of course for his art making. He was co-founder of the ‘A-Dynamical Group’, a group of artists reacting to the dynamic of painting in the ‘50’s. Inspired by Marcel Duchamp and other Dadaists, they strove for boredom and shapelessness. Schippers called his glass and salt floor in Museum Fodor (1962) ‘actually uninterestingness’*, illustrating the philosophy of the group.
Schippers was actually one of the first artists to examine the potential of the floor as an artistic space. His Peanut Butter Platform (1962) probably being his most well-known, and greatly discussed, art work. It consists of a large part of floor (in the exhibition venue) covered with a thick layer of peanut butter, the size can vary depending on the location. Visitors are greeted first by the smell of the artwork and then the sight of a floor coated in the popular bread spread. There are no patterns, just a thick layer of peanut butter, which you’re not allowed to touch. In this way it becomes a strange sensation for a substance which is supposed to be smelled, seen, touched and tasted, can now only be looked at and smelled. It is playing with your senses but not entirely giving in.
Every time the Peanut Butter Platform is on show, it raises questions about its validity as an artwork. People consider it to be meaningless and absurd. That is actually kind off Schippers’ point, to show that everything is meaningless and absurd, but still worth it. What is more, Schippers wants the visitor to think about why this is art and how everything can be art by naming it thus. In the end it is about having fun with the biggest nonsense.
In the same spirit Schippers made The floating stone (1999) for the Dutch government, which appears to be a stone floating above a pedestal. The sculpture defies logic, because how can an object made out of supposedly very heavy material hang suspended in the air like a feather? Well the stone is made out of polyurethane foam and its levitation is made possible by three electromagnets. Resulting in an encounter with the ridiculous, described by the Dutch title readable on the four sides of the plinth and translated as Well I never.**
Schippers is also related to Fluxus (meaning fluent or liquid), a movement of which the main idea was to bring art and daily life together by joining different forms of art.
Schippers’ Manifestation on the beach at Petten (1961) is a good example, in it the audience witnessed Schippers walking to the sea and emptying a bottle of Green Spot lemonade in the water. Performing it on the beach, a place of daily leisure, with regular soda. Great theatricality for a small action. Again this is a piece which seems absurd, but still has a power to make you think about art, everyday things, etc.
As has become clear Schippers works with everyday things, among which food is well represented (for what is more self-evident to us than our food?), in an unexpected way. Thus you are stimulated to think about these common objects and about art and maybe even more.
*Translated by author from ‘waarachtige oninteressantie’ (Dutch).
** The original Dutch title is Het is me wat.
Photographs: Courtesy of Museum Boijmans van Beuningen.