What art have I seen? A Global Table

Posted in Exhibitions, Uncategorized by chrisfremantle on March 3, 2018

A Global Table at the Frans Hals Museum, Haarlem, Netherlands (thanks to the snow-cancelled flight.

The sound of cicadas is evocative and the Carribean accents confirm that although I’m standing in the Frans Hals Museum in Haarlem outside Amsterdam, Shelley Sacks has transported me to an island far away. I’m standing listening to a man or a woman talk about being a banana farmer and the way that global trade affects their lives and livelihoods. In front of me is a mat of pressed banana skins, positioned like a portrait. If I put my nose close I can just get the musk, though the museum’s air conditioning has done for it really. I listen to the voice on headphones. There are twenty portraits around the room. Twenty different voices. Twenty different glimpses into lives and livelihoods. In the middle is a large round table, the centre of which is filled with dried banana skins. The table and benches invite conversation. Irreverently I wonder if the museum staff ate all the bananas, or did a local baker make a lot of banana bread? Gill makes good banana bread. I eat bananas because they are a good snack and don’t give me wind. They are part of my domestic life and Shelley’s installation asks me to relate my domestic to through a series of scales to another domestic and regional, linked by a global corporate system of trade. One of the banana farmers asks the Europeans (i.e. me but probably a bureaucrat or politician in practical terms) to help the banana farmers against the American multi-nationals.

It would be great to be part of one of the conversations that happen around this table periodically.

Other works in the exhibition invite you to participate in a ritual with salt to recognise its role in the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade

; or tell you about the ‘policing’ of relationships between Dutch men and indigenous and mixed women in the Indonesian colonies; or explores the batik business in which the Dutch as all good merchants do took from the Africans all sorts of designs and then sold them the materials. These and other works in the exhibition all revealed or described situations, where Shelley Sacks’ piece opens up a dialogue. In her work no simple moral position is offered. Rather we are asked to engage with the lives of the banana farmers.

Sadly the complimentary part of the exhibition focusing on Food in Still Life painting had been replaced at the Museum. It had been replaced with paintings on the theme of humour. Actually this is an interesting juxtaposition. The exhibition blurb is,

Naughty children, stupid peasants, foolish dandies and befuddled drunks, quack doctors, pimps, procuresses, lazy maids and lusty ladies – they figure in large numbers in Golden Age masterpieces. The Art of Laughter: Humour in the Golden Age presents the first ever overview of humour in seventeenth-century painting.

These paintings offer a moral commentary on society. They do this with beautifully rendered scenes containing jokes and knowing winks. Sex is alluded to through visual language of hares and skewers and the audience is captured by knowing looks. Scenes are ripe with meaning and compositions juxtapose meaning in revealing ways. Not all the contemporary works dealt with their subject matter with such finesse.

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