Exhibitions

Dutch photographer Bas Jan Ader channels Mondrian in new exhibition

Image © the Estate of Bas Jan Ader, courtesy Simon Lee Gallery / Mary Sue Ader Andersen / The Artist Right’s Society (ARS), New York.

The work of Dutch conceptual photographer and filmmaker Bas Jan Ader, one of the most influential artists of his generation, is about to go on show in a solo exhibition in London.

Forty years after the end of his brief career, the exhibition at Simon Lee gallery compromises thirty-five works from across Jan Ader’s career as an artist, between 1969 and 1975.

Simon Lee will also screen five of Ader’s short ‘falling’ films, shown in their original 16mm format, alongside the acclaimed film from 1974, titled Primary Time.

Jan Ader’s photography works on show include the seminal work, I’m too Sad to Tell You, (1971).

“The works exhibited reveal the depth of Ader’s investigation into questions of control and its surrender to the forces of nature, particularly in relation to the creative process and strategies of composition,” the gallery says in a statement.

“When I fell off the roof of my house, or into the canal, it was because gravity made itself master over me, ” Jan Ader once said in relations

In the film Fall 1, Los Angeles, (1970), the camera is focused on the front of Ader’s home in Claremont, with the artist sitting on a chair straddled across the top of the roof before falling and crashing into the garden.

In Fall 2, Amsterdam, (1970), Ader framed on camera a section of the Reguliersgracht canal, with the wall of the canal bisecting the picture to provide a horizon line. Ader appears in the frame from a side street, gripping his handlebars with a bunch of flowers clutched in one hand. He appears to lose control of his bicycle and plunges into the water, along with the bike and flowers. The composition, and Ader’s precisely timed action, “reveals the tension between will and determinism, literally destabilising the subject in an attempt to extend the material limits of art.”

Ader also found in Mondrian, the iconic Dutch Modernist painter, fertile ground for an interrogation of compositional strategies.

Several works in this exhibition reflect Ader’s enquiry into Mondrian’s theories, and analysis of the modernist project. The film Broken fall (geometric) and Wekstkapelle, Holland, (1971) sees Bas Jan Ader standing next to a black sawhorse, on a brick path leading to the Westkapelle lighthouse in Zeeland – the subject of an early series of Mondrian paintings.

Ader’s position aligns him directly parallel to the lighthouse in the background. He momentarily staggers, then falls sideways against the sawhorse and into the bushes. In doing so, Ader is recalling Mondrian’s black line; while the sawhorse a reference to Mondrian’s fellow De Stijl member Theo van Doesburg.

“The film reveals a particularly concise opposition between the forces of nature and the logic of compositional control,” the gallery says.

The film Primary Time, (1971) begins with a vase holding a bouquet of primary colour red, yellow and blue carnations. After a few seconds, Ader appears, dressed in black, systematically beginning to add and remove flowers until he has arranged an exclusively red, then yellow and finally blue bouquet, “literally revealing his hand as an artist constructing and deconstructing the image.”

The series of twenty one photographs Untitled (Flower Work), (1974) utilises the same camera position as the film, but comprises three series of seven framed images, with the final image an exclusively blue bouquet.

In mixing these man-made natural forms, Ader challenges Mondrian’s radical abstraction, suggesting it might never compare to the beauty of nature.

Bas Jan Ader is on show at Simon Lee Gallery, London, from 24 June to 26 August 2016. For more information, see here.