Exploring constructivist and conformist structures and/or sculptures in and around Amsterdam.
Written by Craig Berry
Designer & Writer
Str→uctural Sculptu←ral is a project I carried out in the Summer of 2020. It’s my study of public Constructivist and Conformist* structures and/or sculptures dispersed throughout the wider Amsterdam area, exploring the assimilation and dissimilation† between these two mediums.
*I use the term “Conformist” as a way of describing an artwork made with pre-made/existing materials which dictate and define the resulting form–they conform to the material’s dimensions in some way.
† The use of arrows in the title alludes to this.
By researching these types of artworks, I drew multiple connections between seven pieces ranging in dates from 1958–2015. By exploring and photographing each of these, I learned more about the artists and their intentions through their form and choice of material.
I initially thought of the structure vs sculpture debate after looking at these styles of artwork. Sculptures are traditionally seen as being a piece of stone carved into a shape by hand. The majority of the artworks I looked at were not made this way.
They have (mostly) been made using pre-existing materials, which gives them an architectural value and therefore lean more towards the structural aspect. But does naming them, putting them in a public space and being made by an artist — not an architect — make them sculptures?
I read that: “architecture (in this case: a structure) involves studying engineering and engineering mathematics and sculpture involves creativity and imagination. Sculpture does not depend on measurement. On the other hand, architecture solely depends on measurement.”
And though this may be true about “traditional” sculptures, it’s not when you see the artworks I chose to feature here; they depend on measurement for their creativity.
This project was initially fuelled by boredom and having nothing to do except cycle around the city. Through this solitary cycling, though, came curiosity as I began to explore. I was going to new places and seeing new things– new artworks; which led me to even more new places and even more new things and artworks. I then began to look deeper and scope out similar artworks in areas I had been to hundreds of times prior and never noticed before.
I was making day-long trips around and across the city, photographing over 20 artworks all together to then make this list of seven. I chose seven because my original idea was to share one a day for a week on Instagram, but it became a more significant thing for me.
As well as sharing them on Instagram, I created a visual response (see cover image) — a poster (of sorts) — highlighting these artworks with a small write up, pictures and coloured lines, linking these pieces together in multiple ways. Be it material, date, location or nationality of the artist.
Below is also more development of the project. I am sharing an insight into the project and further exploring each artist and their work with supporting imagery.
Please note, a lot of the links in this article link to Dutch language websites — please use a translation extension if necessary.
1. Henk Zweerus – Verticale Compositie (1958)
Shortly after the realisation of his earlier artwork in the Leidse Bosje (1958), Zweerus was commissioned by the municipality of Amsterdam to create a sculpture on Valeriusplein.
Here he chose this “vertical composition”, and for practical reasons, used white ornamental concrete. Due to the white binding material’s expected weathering, the filler gravel was also chosen in light shades so that the image would be permanently white.
On the one hand, the pure and grammatical ABC of the visual means are examined; on the other hand, Zweerus allows a free kind of architectural lyricism to blossom. If not relieved, separated from the programmatic and functional limitations that so much restrain architecture, which restricts rather than limits thinking about spatiality.
Materials: Stone & Concrete
Artwork title translated to English: Vertical Composition
2. Boris Tellegen – De Wachter (2015)
Boris Tellegen (b. 1968 NL) first acquired fame as a graffiti artist, going by the alias Delta. For De Wachter, he took inspiration from the high-rise buildings at the Zuidas and children’s toys like Lego and robots. By combining these elements, he has created something visually relatable yet playful.
De Wachter is a “statue” that, at first glance, looks like a former gatekeeper at the gates of Amsterdam. Approaching it — apart from the two sturdy legs — there is a flawed guard. From the waist down, the structure is like a fantasy of a half-human/half-machine, in which parts have no bond whatsoever, other than that they are joined together, according to the article in Het Parool.
Materials: Galvanised Steel & Chrome Steel
Artwork title translated to English: The Watchman
3. Martijn Sandberg – De Sleutel Ligt Onder De Deurmat (2012)
Martijn Sandberg (b. 1967 NL) is a sculptor and artist, often working with physical forms and typography: “constantly exploring border areas, such as the tension between text and image, illegible into legible, the private and the public domain.”
Sandberg’s site-specific artwork is integrated with the communal corner stair belonging to De Zilverling tower building at the Colijnstraat in Amsterdam. A secret message lurks among the layers of the concrete stair treads. A message left unobtrusively, for your eyes only: ‘the key is under the doormat’.
An open secret. The secret message emerges from the ‘pixels’ of the figuration, distributed over both sides of the stair. Now you see it, now you don’t. While passing the building, while climbing the stair. It all depends on the point of view you take, the angle you see it from.
Perhaps today, and otherwise tomorrow, at a certain moment — in a flash — everything converges. Suddenly you see it before you, from far away or close up. And then you know where the key is.
Artwork title translated to English: The Key is Under the Doormat
4. Joseph Ongenae – Betonplastiek (1973)
For the Sports Park in Sloten, Belgian painter Joseph Ongenae (b. 1921–1993 BE) designed this abstract sculpture, made from concrete. Ongenae painted the concrete surfaces with the colours red, yellow, white and black.
Ongenae was largely self-taught. In Paris, he was taught by Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque, among others. Ongenae ended up in Amsterdam through the sculptor André Volten, of whom various works can also be found in Amsterdam Nieuwe-West. This is where he stayed until his death in 1993.
Artwork title translated to English: Concrete Plastic
5. Margot Zanstra – Zonder Titel (1973)
Margot Zanstra (b. 1919–2010 NL) hardly ever gives her artworks a name. She didn’t, in this case, of her sculpture that is stuck between the low-rise and the high-rise parts of the Rembrandtpark Building. The complex was developed for the AMRO Bank in 1973 by the artist’s husband, Piet Zanstra’s architectural firm.
This same high-rise building is recently home to the hotel Ramada Apollo Amsterdam Centre, whose name and allure contrast sharply with Zanstra’s artwork. Inside the hotel walls, the principle of hospitality is central; it is dictated what we ought to think about it (pleasant), and any critical note will be silenced out of politeness.
Outside where the work is, but where title and creator are kept out of sight, the reality is harsher. No matter how many times you walk around the sculpture with its concrete geometrical shapes, it really will never be ‘pleasant’.
Artwork title translated to English: Without Title (Untitled)
6. André Volten – Constructie met I-balken (1968)
André Volten (b. 1995–2002 NL) was a sculptor with many artworks spread across Amsterdam, and he is seen as one of the most important Dutch sculptors after 1945.
In 1902 a book of Dutch idioms and proverbs, collected and edited by Frederik August Stoett, was published. Volten collected and numbered all the proverbs he could find.
Number 155 says: ‘Uit den band springen’, which translates as ‘to burst, to fly open’. It refers to a barrel and the metal rings around it breaking open from internal pressure, meaning to act unrestrained. The proverb pops up in an interview for Ons Erfdeel when his practice and emotional and intuitive approach to materials are discussed.
When asked why he deals with sculpture on such mathematical terms, Volten uses the Dutch saying to clarify his approach: “I need the rectangular and the linear in order to restrain myself.”
Materials: Iron & Steel
Artwork title translated to English: Construction with I-beams
7. Frans & Marja de Boer Lichtveld – Schakelobject #3 (1977)
Frans (b. 1942–2016 NL) and Marja de Boet Lichtveld (b. 1941) were an artist couple who focused on sculptures and kinetic objects. Their works are represented in numerous museum and company collections.
Schakelobject #3 is constructed from stainless steel and perspex, held together with bolts. There are nine blocks in the form of diamond-shaped cubes which can be moved, and therefore a different form is created each time.
The de Boer Lichtveld couple created these kinetic sculptures and objects for a long time. They processed high-gloss materials to reflect the movement of passers-by. Their work consists of abstract forms, which can refer to the history of the place where the statue stands. Space and light are essential elements in their work.
Materials: Stainless Steel & Perspex
Artwork title translated to English: Switch Object #3
One of the most complex parts of this project was choosing only seven artworks and artists to highlight. My more exhaustive research was massive and saw me looking at over 20 different artworks, many of which I photographed regardless, and therefore I can share below.
I would suggest looking into some of these artists and conducting your own research if you are interested in the subject.
Also, here is a map where you can find them (and the seven above) in Amsterdam.