Your life is calling, Paul van Pieck, Benno Réwinkel, 1998
In 1990, one hundred years after his death, the city of Amsterdam honoured the life and work of Vincent van Gogh with a large retrospective, a Van Gogh Village at Museumplein and an enormous amount of merchandise. Although the art world observed the celebration with certain disdain, no one really stood up against the commercialised spectacle. Until the last day of March, when a sculpture was hoisted from a truck and illegally placed on the square. Clenched fists raised above the ground. Your Life is Calling, so claimed the artists Paul van Pieck and Benno Réwinkel. This sculpture was their protest against the commercialisation of the major Dutch art museums and a call out to their colleagues for action. At first the sculpture was thought to be part of the Van Gogh exhibition, but when it turned out not to be somehow it was allowed to stay. It was not before 1998, when the square was refurbished, that the sculpture was dismantled and stored in a depot.
The public domain is seen by many theorists as the ultimate space for the manifestation of democracy, a place for the people to gather and discuss political issues, to express their discontent and come into action if needed, to take part in the organisation of society. Anarchistic as it may seem, even in the public domain the authorities assert control and participation is limited. Artists working in public space often have to deal with the power structures that organise public space, like urban planners, the local government and commissioners.
In that sense, Your Life is Calling is exceptional compared to the other works on this route. It was installed in public space without a commissioner and without permission from the city government. If you recognise this space as constantly being in flux, then you’ll see how artists and their artworks can play an important role shaping it. Your Life is Calling’s condemnation of the museums’ commercial policies exemplifies how an artwork can literally and metaphorically transform public space. Installing the sculpture physically changed the place, but apart from that the work’s presence may influence its spectators by making them aware of issues at play inside (and outside) the museum world.
For Van Pieck and Réwinkel it is important to be involved in their social environment. It was always their ambition to legalise Your Life is Calling. After it was removed from Museumplein they actively looked for an alternative location for the work. In 1999, the bouquet of fists was reinstalled in Beatrixpark with the city’s consent and it’s still there. But the question is how the relocation has affected the work’s original significance. A protest against museum policy on a green slope amidst the flower beds in the peaceful oasis of the park in the centre of the otherwise tumultuous Zuidas: the bold statement seems out of place here, weakened. Outside the Museumplein context the work is not as persuasive. It seems that this time art has surrendered to the power of the urban planners and Museumplein has lost a potent artistic symbol.
Foto’s van de illegale plaatsing van Your life is calling op de website van Stichting OE: http://youmeetoe.org/sociale-sculpturen/your-life-is-calling/