column

2013 2012 2011 2012 2011 2012 2010 2009 2008 2007 2006

Shadow lines

Since Good Friday, 2009, the Kröller-Müller Museum has been displaying a work by Jan Dibbets (b. 1941, Weert), which he first created forty years ago at Museum Haus Lange in Krefeld. The title is All shadows that struck me in... The work consists of masking tape outlining shadows on the floor and walls of a museum gallery. The taping process was repeated several times, and the result is a complex composition of lines, which shows the path of the sunlight in an unconventional way. This work, which Dibbets has created only a few times since 1969, deals with time, light, and space, and is typical of the conceptual art of the 1960s. The beautiful thing about it is that the idea has been executed with a minimum of materials, but its impact is surprising and visually rich. To give artistic expression to his fascination with time, light, and space, Dibbets decided as early as 1967 – after an experimental period – to concentrate on the medium of photography. His Perspective Corrections series, in which he explored the deception involved in the photographic representation of space, quickly established his reputation internationally. In his shadow line project, he found a different way of manipulating space, in which the distortion of perspective can be traced through successive moments by marking and thereby arresting the incoming sunlight in space. This is the only project he has ever carried out in the medium.
It is a work I admire a great deal, because it fires the imagination tremendously and demonstrates the complexity and relativity of existence in a non-scientific way. This is truly the work of an artist who seeks to push the limits. I must admit, however, that my opinion is strongly coloured by personal experience. In 1969, when I was 21 years old, I saw the exhibition for which this work was originally made. The riddles posed by it, and by Dibbets’ other works, were so stimulating and fascinating to me that I decided to say farewell to my dream of becoming an archaeologist and pursue modern art. I realized that the art of my own day confronted me with more adventurous and romantic problems than that of the ancient world.
In 2007, it emerged that Dibbets was still “in possession” of the shadow line project, and that it fit perfectly into the overview of conceptual art that the museum had built up over the years. Obviously, a buyer could no longer acquire the 1969 version from the museum in Krefeld, but could obtain the right to re-create the work again and again in accordance with the concept (described by Dibbets in a certificate). The artist is happy to come create the work with you the first time, but after that he assumes you can do it yourself and grants you complete freedom to do so. The purchase was made with the support of the Mondriaan Foundation, and the Kröller-Müller Museum is now the work’s exclusive owner. Jan Dibbets ultimately carried out the project at this museum for the first time this past Good Friday, working with a few museum employees in a gallery where two works by Carl Andre had been placed two weeks earlier. "Leave them there," Dibbets said, "we’ll tape around them. I’m sure the two works won’t bite each other."
I‘m curious how you’ll respond to this work. I hope you’ll enjoy it, and even if it doesn't leave as strong an impression on you as it did on me all those years ago, I hope it will leave you with something – the insight, perhaps, that art still has the power to transform our experience of reality.

Evert van Straaten
May 2009