Venture to Amsterdam’s Apollolaan avenue this summer, and you might mistake the larger-than-life man with bright fuchsia pants and a neon pumpkin-shaped head dominating the street as some kind of local mascot or marketing icon. A gimmick it is not — it’s a sculpture by Austrian Erwin Wurm, one of 58 international artists participating in this year’s ARTZUID, a fantastical outdoor sculpture route now on display in the Dutch capital.
Started by local residents in 2009, the free activity is organized every two years in Oud Zuid, a genteel district south of the city’s Canal Belt. Its aim is as much to promote world-class art as it is to draw attention to the district’s Amsterdam School architecture, an early 20th-century style characterized by lavishly embellished facades, decorative wrought iron and stained glass.
Former Rijksmuseum director and curator Henk van Os selected daring pieces for the city’s premier open-air art event this summer. Focusing on the theme of “Engagement,” the 70 sculptures are perhaps more audacious than in past years. Two prime examples are Joep van Lieshout’s Wellness Skull, a giant skull-cum-sauna (used here mostly by children as a climbing frame), or David Bade’s Burger Queen, a pink pole dancer — constructed from trash — who twirls around a lamp post high above the ground.
Although van Os explains that all the works on the route were selected to provoke, they are not intended to titillate. Away from the splashy pieces on Apollolaan, more contemplative sculptures can be found on the nearby residential Minervalaan. In the street’s central reservation — which doubles as a small park — the grass growing between Richard Long’s quiet basalt rock formations gives the impression that they have been there for years, while Kader Attia’s gravestone-shaped mirrors are a literal reflection on reflection.
A short detour to the east — and something not to be missed — is Forever by Ai Weiwei at the art space KunstKapel on Prinses Irenestraat 19. The only sculpture displayed inside, it combines the Chinese artist’s interests in design and ecology in an unending circle of interconnected bicycles.
ARTZUID runs until September 22. Maps of the route are available for €2 (about US$3) from the information kiosk on Minervalaan 1 (open daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.) or as an iPhone app. The route can easily be reached by train, tram or metro and takes about two and a half hours to complete on foot.
Photos courtesy of ARTZUID and JW Kaldenbach