[My husband, son, and I are in Amsterdam for 2 months this spring. John is a writer-in-residence with the Dutch Foundation for Literature, I am working/visiting artists/seeing art, and Henry is doing an exhaustive analysis of each of the city’s sandboxes.]
The other day I made an afternoon tour of a few art spots in Amsterdam—my list made manageable by the fact that it was a Tuesday and many galleries were closed—and wanted to give a brief report.
1) Stedelijk Museum Bureau Amsterdam (the museum’s project space) to see Alfredo Jaar’s The Marx Lounge, a reading room in which to peruse books by, about, or relating to Karl Marx, Marxist theory, capitalism, and post-colonialism. Jaar’s curated selection is laid out in a neat grid on a vast table, surrounded by red walls and carpet, along with couches, lamps, and neon lettering quietly humming the project’s title. As I do whenever I encounter a work by Jaar, I braced myself to be overwhelmed and to feel the enormity of that which I do not know, but should. You would think this would be a negative experience, but somehow, with Jaar’s work, it is not. I spent a while here, picking up books I wish I’ve read, browsing a few, making notes of books I plan to read, and feeling relief when encountering books I have read. Handily, the website provides a reading list, in case you’re feeling ambitious.
Another iteration of the lounge was part of the 2010 Liverpool Biennial, bringing to mind how site-determined the work is, that the reading list alters in each location, and that the social and political histories of each site, city, and nation come to bear on the interpretation of the piece. While the installation could have had a little more teeth for me if installed in a commercial gallery space, The Marx Lounge felt concise, sobering, and relevant—a plea for literacy and academicism in a time in which folks aren’t acting so literate or academic. Like all Jaar pieces, I felt like he was telling me to think and to remember. And I always appreciate that reminder.