Galerie Fons Welters - Amsterdam

The sculptures of Tom Claassen frequently assume classical, monumental proportions: take the concrete elephants beside the A27, for instance, or the two seated men at Schiphol airport. And yet his works do not radiate grandeur. In fact they have an almost apologetic air about them, in spite of towering over their surroundings from a good seven metres.

The animals and other beings sculpted by Tom Claassen are essentially anti-heroes. It is as if Claassen only dares to tackle this monumentality with a large dose of humour and irony. But his animal subjects – frequently executed in rounded, attractive shapes – are a tactic that distracts our attention from Tom Claassen’s real aim: surreptitiously to take up as much space as possible. The contradictions in Claassen’s work – monumentality in an accessible form – make it possible for his conquest of the public space almost to escape notice.

Claassen bases one of his latest works, Duck rolls, on ducks that have been plucked. But he adds thick, coarsely modelled clay to the feet and the little stump of neck that was once joined to the head. The legs look more like teddy-bears’ feet with toes than webbed ducks’ feet. The neck that has been added is long and curved like a swan’s. The clay is modelled coarsely, the toes are little balls pressed against the clumps of clay that serve as feet. This technique is reminiscent of sprezzatura, a term used to express the fleeting quality, the air of nonchalance, conveyed by some Renaissance artists. Tom Claassen’s work may appear effortless, but appearances are deceptive, since this quality of evanescence can be achieved only through great precision.

For this exhibition, Tom Claassen has transformed the gallery into a field. The land is broken up by coarsely-shaped, worm-like apparitions. Along the side are a forgotten deck chair and a ladder, or rather, the latex casts of these objects. The skin that has been peeled off the actual object is literally the object’s negative: the non-object. The entrance to the gallery is transformed into a runway, an indispensable feature in this quintessentially Dutch scene. The animal world that is so characteristic of Tom Claassen’s work fills every last corner of the gallery, as if the life of the countryside has been imported into the space. Claassen succeeds once again, with an ostensibly simple gesture, in turning the world inside out.

[Laura van Grinsven]