Interiors features 16 new photographs by Dutch artist Wijnanda Deroo. An international traveler with a camera as her companion rather than a guide book, Wijnanda Deroo explores the shared humanity imprinted upon the environments we inhabit. Her photographs, although from geographically disparate locales, including Indonesia, Berlin, the Netherlands, Puerto Rico, and Sharon Springs, New York are unified by their sumptuous colors, formal geometries, and quotidian subject matter. More so than the locations of the sites depicted, the motif or palette have defined Deroo's work across her career. What has often been termed commonplace in the photographs, may in fact be better called common places of repose. Deroo's camera settles on bedrooms, foyers, cafés and waiting rooms, familiar tableaux in which hours are passed with routine nonchalance. Yet the images never transcend time: the inescapable affect of natural light and the ubiquity of windows and doors are portals to the exterior world. While promoting ambiguities with regards to time and place, Deroo's photographs invite implicit connections between images. Taken together, the accumulated evidence and melancholic beauty become traces that "[point] to a secret, to something hidden beyond what is visible." (Perspektief #30, Rudy Kousbroek)
Wijnanda Deroo has exhibited her work internationally since the early 1980s. Her photographs are included in numerous collections, including those at the Museum of Modern Art, New York City; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; The Brooklyn Museum of Art; the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris; the Musée Nationale d'Art Moderne at the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Dutch Art Foundation, Amsterdam; and the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora, Tel Aviv. Her work was recently featured in Blind Spot #23; other publications include Huizen (De Verbeelding Publishing, Amsterdam, 2003) and Wijnanda Deroo: Photographs (De Verbeelding Publishing, Amsterdam, 2002).
The New York Times
September 7, 2007
It is dangerous to say an artist exhibits national tendencies, but Wijnanda Deroo's photographs are so Dutch the connection is inescapable.
As the show's title promises, she focuses on interiors. As in Vermeer's work, one of the prominent aspects of these deeply hued, expertly composed photographs is the relationship between inside and out, highlighted by windows and doors that offer glimpses of the exterior or allow light from it to cascade in.
Maps in Vermeer's paintings alluded to the world beyond the his doorstep, the one explored and colonized by the Dutch in the 17th century. Ms. Deroo's photographs record her own travels in Indonesia, the Caribbean and the United States, although from the vantage point of a traveler who never makes it off the ship or out of the hotel.
The cryptic narratives favored by Dutch masters — erotically charged music lessons, sleeping maids, people passing letters — are replaced in Ms. Deroo's unpopulated interiors by sly visual jokes and elegant formal juxtapositions. In the "Party Room," taken in Puerto Rico, there is a crudely painted mural depicting a Caribbean sunset (presumably you could witness a real one outside); a mirror in a Kansas hat store reflects the legs of the tripod and the photographer's foot.
Even Ms. Deroo's love of color feels Dutch. Her deep red rooms and a bright, multicolored Indonesian cafe update Gerrit Rietveld or Jaap Drupsteen's eye-popping designs for guilder notes.
These are intensely formalist rather than Conceptualist works, unless you consider the correspondence between images of rooms and the camera itself; the word, after all, comes from the Latin word for "chamber." And in Vermeer's day images of rooms implied the possible use of camera obscura devices. Mostly Ms. Deroo's photographs demonstrate the rewards of close looking and mining an aesthetic heritage — even one that in the abstract sounds as clichéd as Dutch interiors.
Between 1988 and 1992, Dutch photographer Wijnanda Deroo trawled New York City's Lower East Side for fragments of the not yet gentrified neighborhood's Jewish history, photographing its obscured and crumbling synagogues. In 2004, she was commissioned to document the Rijksmuseum's pre-restoration state, arriving at a sequence of desolate interiors that reflect a century of wear and tear. Considering these two projects, made more than a decade apart, simultaneously is to be struck by how unerringly Deroo has managed to invest empty spaces with emotional authority. The artist's recent exhibition showcased a set of sixteen large photographs of vacant rooms from her series 'Interiors,' 2005-, a body of work that might, given the predominance of overly designed domestic decoration in the media today, suggest a glossy take on the fashionable and illustrious. But on closer inspection, these shots are entirely consistent with the sensibility that Deroo has evinced throughout her career.
'Interiors' is likely to draw comparisons to the work of Candida Höfer, not only because the two share vaguely similar palettes, but because they also have a comparable geographic reach. Höfer's focus on cultural heritage, however, is much more strident then Deroo's which (without feeling willfully obscure) seeks out history's neglected corners. And unlike the topically similar recent work Dayanita Singh, in which the photographer's technical skill seems to leach out almost all emotional resonance, Deroo's images, shot in deeply saturated color, retain their subjects humanity. A more apt comparison might be with William Eggleston; the top half of Deroo's Brahmavihara Indonesia, Bali, 2005, could be a Southeast Asian cousin to Eggleston's Red Ceiling, 1973, in which the hot hue of the room is loudly amplified and the sharp geometry helps to define an otherwise enigmatic space.
The presence of people in Deroo's pictures is implied — by the open door and pair of slippers in the green-tinged Kraton Kanoman, Cirebon, Indonesia, 2005, or the forlorn, deflating balloons in Blue Marlin Party Room, Puerto Rico, 2006 — not stated outright yet we never miss it. Each scene hints at egress — a gauzy window in Adler Hotel, Green Room, Sharon Springs, 2005, a Deco stairwell in Queen Mary, Staircase, 2006. Each implied interaction focuses the viewer's attention on the details of the space: a crookedly hung Japanese print, a stained mattress, a vacuum cleaner sitting beside a stage.
Deroo is fascinated, as are many of her contemporaries, with the romance of decline. She pictures the remnants of colonial architecture in Indonesia and the slow pace of life in a cowboy hat store in rural Kansas, where a mirror reflects little but scrap wood, a broom, and some empty hat hooks. The Sharon Springs sequence is particularly poignant. Known in the nineteenth century for its hot springs and wealthy summer residents (the Vanderbilts, the Roosevelts, and Oscar Wilde among them), and for catering to affluent New York Jews in the twentieth, the village now resembles little more than pit stop on the Borscht Belt nostalgia tour. Deroo's shots of decaying ballrooms and guest chambers of the Adler and Columbia hotels belie the former glory of these grand resorts: glory long receded before their eventual closer in 2004. It is Deroo's ability to look back at something departed and find resonance in its subtle residue that captivates.