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02 Mar 2010

Sculpture International Rotterdam: Cascade by Atelier Van Lieshout

Cascade, sketch design, (c) Atelier Van Lieshout

A new icon for Rotterdam's Coolsingel
Sculpture International Rotterdam


Festive unveiling: 6 March, 8.30 pm


+31 10 2250854
+31 10 2251272



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Rotterdam has many sculptures. However, until now it was lacking a piece by one of its most internationally renowned artists, Joep van Lieshout. In 2008, Sculpture International Rotterdam (SIR) invited Atelier Van Lieshout (AVL) to develop a work of art for the city centre. In consultation with SIR, the artist selected Churchillplein, the major traffic intersection on the central boulevard at the junction of Coolsingel/Blaak. From 6 March 2010, AVL's work Cascade will be given a permanent place there, on the traverse opposite the Maritime Museum.


The eight-metre tall sculpture is made of polyester, a material that can almost be regarded as the signature of Atelier Van Lieshout. Eighteen stacked oil drums, which appear to descend from the sky like a waterfall, combine to form a monumental column. From the life-size drums drips a syrupy mass in which one can make out the shapes of a score of human figures. They are anonymous beings, many of them in dramatic poses. One of them climbs upwards. In comparison with the robust contours of the oil drums, the figures are limp and formless. Despite that, these shapes form a network that supports the column. Drums and human shapes, rigid and limp forms, have melted together into a single whole.

From the very beginning, Joep van Lieshout's works of art have been the embodiment of his ideas about art and society: from the utilitarian sculptures of the 'eighties and mobile homes of the 'nineties to the 'free state' of AVL-Ville (2001) and the recent SlaveCity (2003-2008). Cascade, too, is the embodiment of a social statement.
Van Lieshout cites victory columns, especially the Pestsäule in Vienna, as his source of inspiration. In 1693 the city of Vienna celebrated the end of the great plague epidemic with this baroque memorial. In Cascade, which is equally baroque, the clouds and angels are replaced by oil drums, emblems of the international port that is Rotterdam. The celebratory atmosphere of the Pestsäule has been displaced by more sombre mood. The sculpture by Atelier Van Lieshout evokes associations with the current economic crisis, the exhaustion of raw materials and the bankruptcy of the consumer society. These interpretations are brought into sharper focus by the sculpture's location at the junction of Coolsingel and Blaak, at the centre of the commercial and financial heart of Rotterdam. Apart from these attributions inspired by current events, many other interpretations are possible and may even be diametrically opposed. It is left to the viewer whether to see the sculpture as a contemporary image of the decline of the human race, or as an ode to the resilience of the individual who manages to rise above all difficulties.


Over recent months, Cascade has taken on its final shape and colour at AVL's workshop in the port of Rotterdam. At the beginning of March, the colossus will be transported across the Maas by ship, to dock at Leuvehaven. This event evokes memories of another sculpture. Over fifty years ago, Naum Gabo's sculpture for the Bijenkorf also arrived by ship at virtually the same spot. Together with Zadkine's 'Destroyed City', this sculpture was there at the start of the City of Rotterdam's international sculpture collection.
Cascade will take its place just a stone's throw from both the sculptures and will have to compete against these classics. Compared with the unambiguous modernism of the Gabo and the sincerely professed humanism of the Zadkine, Atelier Van Lieshout's sculpture is much more ambivalent. Cascade derives its vitality from the strange combination of its monumental stature and the employment of an unusual material for such a monument; from the tension between the almost abstract design and the extremely direct imagery, and from the mixture of drama and slapstick. These characteristics endow Cascade with the potential to mark one of the busiest spots in the centre of Rotterdam and to provoke the passer-by not only visually but also as a statement. Cascade has the capacity to become an icon.

Cascade, by AVL, forms part of SIR's long-term plan for the Coolsingel corridor (2009-2012). In preparation for the major restructuring of this urban boulevard, SIR developed a programme of temporary and (semi-)permanent art projects. In this programme, attention focuses on the past, present and – above all – the unpredictable future of Coolsingel, and possibilities are examined for a new generation of artworks for Rotterdam's most important street. Within this framework, SIR opened the SIR Cinema in November 2009 and Taneda's Coolsingel Cube in January during the IFFR; in April, Paolo Pivi's sound studio will open its doors at Coolsingel 57.


An exhibition by Atelier Van Lieshout will be held from 29 May to 26 September 2010. This is a unique joint venture of Havenbedrijf Rotterdam and Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen. An abandoned submarine pen, 5,000 m2 in area, will be home to an exhibition by Atelier Van Lieshout.


SIR is an advisory body of the Municipal Executive. It manages and develops the international artworks for Rotterdam's metropolitan locations and assists the city to achieve its international and cultural ambitions. (SIR is affiliated to the Rotterdam Centre for Visual Art.)