artist / participant

press release

Guido van der Werve: Palpable Futility
February 12–May 29, 2022

We see a vast expanse of ice with a solitary figure in the middle, trudging along as a huge icebreaker approaches. The short film Nummer acht by Guido van der Werve leaves an indelible impression. Over the past two decades he has amassed an absolutely unique body of work, centred on a personal and philosophical approach to his grand dreams and on a sense of wonderment at the banality of everyday experience. Eye now proudly presents the first retrospective of Van der Werve, featuring a broad selection of his films as well as new work. The exhibition is accompanied by an extensive publication and an in-depth programme in the museum’s cinemas, compiled together with the artist.

Romanticism, nature and the sublime are never far away in the world of Van der Werve. We see the central figure, played by himself, as an insignificant and solitary individual in a landscape that overwhelms him. He hikes through spectacular mountain scenery, swims in a majestic river or plays piano on a raft floating across a northern European lake. He also spends a full 24 hours standing on the North Pole as the earth revolves beneath his feet.

Van der Werve often films his extreme physical exertions, in which he battles with himself. His accomplishments include an epic triathlon in which he swims, cycles and runs between the church in Warsaw where Chopin’s heart is buried and his official grave in Paris, and a twelve-hour ultramarathon around his own house in Finland. The central figure in his films also has to endure extreme cold, fire and loneliness. In the process, we gain insight into an extraordinary and fascinating life. His extreme and exhausting exploits provoke existential questions about the meaning of life and the utter futility of existence.

His films combine autobiographical elements with themes such as classical music, endurance sport, chess and nature. Van der Werve, himself a gifted pianist, composes the music for many of his films. His work, depicting a tiny figure surrounded by overwhelming nature, is often associated with Romanticism. But besides extremes and melancholy, the films are sprinkled with dry wit.

Van der Werve is currently working on a new film, Nummer achttien, prompted by his involvement in a serious traffic accident. Highly autobiographical, the film deals with, among other things, his difficult rehabilitation process. The exhibition also features new work taken from Nummer achttien.

About the artist Born in Papendrecht in 1977, Guido van der Werve is internationally renowned for films in which he records performances. He studied at the Gerrit Rietveld Academie and spent time in residence at the Rijksakademie van beeldende kunsten in Amsterdam. His work is held in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, New York; Hirschhorn Museum, Washington, D.C.; Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; Goetz Collection, Munich; and Museum Boijmans van Beuningen, Rotterdam.

His work has been exhibited at the Kunsthalle Basel, MoMA/PS1 and Manifesta, and at the biennales of Venice, Moscow and Istanbul, and has been honoured with the Volkskrant Art Prize, the Prix International d’Art Contemporain from the Foundation Prince Pierre de Monaco, the Charlotte Köhler Prize, the Cobra Art Prize and a Golden Calf for the best short film.

Van der Werve lives in Berlin, Amsterdam and Hassi in Finland.

An extensive publication featuring texts about and images of all films by Guido van der Werve is published to coincide with the exhibition. Various authors approach the work from different perspectives. Barbara London, former MoMA curator and founder of the museum’s collection of video art, places it in an international art historical context. She acquired Van der Werve’s work for the MoMA. In addition to an interview and a literary contribution, the book includes essays about chess and the role of music, by Jaap Guldemond, Dirk van Weelden, Xander Karskens, Sara Crombach and Marian Cousijn.

Publisher: Eye Filmmuseum & naioıo publishers. Editor: Marente Bloemheuvel. Graphic design: Joseph Plateau. Price: 29.95 EUR (hard cover).

The book is made possible by Mondriaan Fund en Jaap Harten Fonds

Films, talks & events
The exhibition is accompanied by a special film programme compiled together with the artist. It features his single-channel work in combination with lectures, discussions, a musical performance and films selected by the artist. Important sources of inspiration such as the performance films of Bas Jan Ader and a performance based on celebrated chess scenes are also included. A special event highlights the images evoked by music. We also venture into Romantic landscapes and explore the limits of the body in sport.