Margriet Schavemaker makes exhibitions and writes about modern and contemporary art. She is associated with the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam as Manager Education, Interpretation and Publications. She contacted Robert Morris about a re-enactment of his work at the Stedelijk Museum.
“I work at a museum, but I also really like to experience art outside of the museum walls. There you may encounter a tension between the work of art and nature. This is certainly the case for the land art works in Flevoland and the Observatorium by Robert Morris. But Morris also realised, along with many other artists in the sixties, that you can also bring nature to the museum. And the nice thing is that this also happened at the Stedelijk Museum.
At the end of the sixties Wim Beeren, who would later be director of the Stedelijk Museum, organised the exhibition ‘Op losse schroeven.’ This legendary exhibition gave an international overview of conceptual and performative art at the Stedelijk Museum. During the exhibition Marinus Boezem hung white sheets from the windows and Jan Dibbets dug holes around the museum. Robert Morris realised his Amsterdam Project at this exhibition. This work was based on a sort of script for the museum staff that stated that every other day a heap of flammable materials, collected outside, was to be created in the museum space: whether these were leafs or earth. Eventually the staff had to light these heaps outside of the museum. In 2011, I made the exhibition ‘Recollections - Op losse schroeven’ about this exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum. I also contacted Morris for a re-enactment of his work. We ended up collecting ourselves combustible materials to bring into the museum space. Afterwards we brought the heaps outside and set them to fire. The whole thing was quite ritualistic.
Beeren was nevertheless convinced that most works from the ‘Op losse schroeven’ exhibition had actually failed. The whole idea was that the object didn’t matter, but the works were eagerly collected afterwards. There is no exhibition that had a greater impact on the collection of the Stedelijk Museum than ‘Op losse schroeven.’ This was a big paradox, and Beeren felt it. He decided the museum was stuck and he wanted to work outside of the institute. That’s why he left the museum and organised the open-air exhibition 'Sonsbeek buiten de perken’ in 1971. Beeren invited Morris again and this time he made the Observatorium in the dunes of Velsen. This first version of drift-sand was not meant to exist forever. Nonetheless Beeren asked if they work could be replaced to a more permanent location in 1973. This permanent location was Swifterband in the Flevopolder, where the Observatorium reopened in 1977. By moving the Observatorium to a permanent place in the polder, it soon became monumental heritage. In a way this is almost inevitable in the highly urbanised Dutch landscape. Not unlike the Afsluitdijk and the Noordoostpolder, which are part of the proto-Dutch landscape, the Observatorium is now fully integrated in the polder.”