• Tom Claassen retrospective
  • 2010-05-15T00:00:00+02:00
  • 2010-08-28T23:59:59+02:00
  • The first ever major retrospective of work by sculptor Tom Claassen can be seen at Kunsthal KAdE. A wide selection of Claassen’s sculptures will be on show in and around the exhibition centre including works normally sited in public spaces as well as works on loan from museums and private collections.

Artists: Tom Claassen

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The first ever major retrospective of work by sculptor Tom Claassen can be seen at Kunsthal KAdE from 15 May to 29 August (inclusive). A wide selection of Claassen’s sculptures will be on show in and around the exhibition centre. They will include works normally sited in public spaces – like his horse sculpture from De Plantage in Utrecht and a huge, stylised rat called Bridget from the Kröller-Müller Museum – as well as works on loan from museums and private collections. Two of his past installations will be recreated and two large new works will be constructed on site. Around these, there will be a series of small sculptures and the most complete possible overview of the artist’s maquettes for large open-air sculptures. 

Although Tom Claassen’s name is virtually unknown outside the art world, his work is familiar to more people than that of almost any other artist in the Netherlands today. Every day, thousands of motorists pass his five vast elephant sculptures at a traffic intersection outside Almere. Each year, vast numbers of air travellers stream past his ‘Snowmen’ at the entrance to Schiphol Airport’s D pier. His rabbits play on the grass next to the Kunsthal in Rotterdam and a seven-metre-high figure stands in front of the town hall in Hoofddorp. Tom Claassen’s sculpture is on view in public spaces throughout the Netherlands, from Breda to Ypenburg, from Almelo to Vijfhuizen, and from IJburg to Utrecht.

Claassen’s sculptures are immediately memorable. Because of their associations, they stick in the mind. Despite his semi-abstract style, Claassen keeps close enough to reality for his subjects to be instantly recognisable. Besides his lovable stylised animals, they include crashed cars, a carpet, earthworms, scaffolding and ladders. Whatever the subject, Claassen looks for its essential form and plays with traditional points of departure like volume, abstraction, and relative proportions.

Tom Claassen uses a wide range of techniques to achieve his purposes. Some (like bronze casting) are traditional; others are less orthodox. For ‘Bridget’ – his huge, stylised rat – the artist had four cubic metres of sand dumped in his studio and used this ‘sandpit’, as he calls it, to hollow out the shapes of the upper and lower parts of the sculpture. The hollows were then coated with latex rubber and the solidified rubber components were finally sewn together in a rough and ready way. The sand that inevitably stuck to the rubber in the process gives the rat its wonderful surface texture.

The magic of Tom Claassen’s work lies in reduction. He reduces and refines the form right down to its pure essence, retaining the archetypical image of the subject while at the same time giving it additional emotional impact. His work is sober and down-to-earth. Many of the creatures that Claassen is so fond of sculpting look rather ungainly. They are just a bit sturdier than their real-life counterparts, but this ‘exaggeration’ is functional and never becomes bathetic.

The work is large and bulky – solid and robust – but sometimes also deliberately fragmentary. Through his interpretations of familiar forms, Tom Claassen evokes a whole repertory of stories. He exploits this – universal and timeless – familiarity but also offers the viewer a completely new experience.

Tom Claassen (b. Heerlen, 4 October 1964) lives and works in the Netherlands and Denmark. He has won a number of prizes, including the Aanmoedigingsprijs Stad Amsterdam (1993) and the Charlotte Köhler Prijs (1994). In 1992 he was selected to receive the Dutch Prix de Rome (sculpture/visual arts and public space).