‘Sea Dogs & Beach Guests’ was a family exhibition of contemporary art. Part of Mesdag Year, the exhibition was on display from 15 August to 1 November 2015.
Sea Dogs & Beach Guests featured works by 13 contemporary artists who were inspired by the sea and beach – as was artist and collector Hendrik Willem Mesdag (1831-1915). Displayed in the museum founded by Mesdag himself, the photographs, videos, sculptures and installations each illuminated various aspects of coastal life.
Sea Dogs & Beach Guests was a true family exhibition, both the young and young at heart can identify with the familiar subject addressed in these visually appealing works. Educational resources and texts packed with questions challenged the entire family to explore beyond the surface of the art. Participants of ‘The Art of Making Art Exhibitions’ devised the concept, before developing and realising this striking exhibition. This course – offered by the Van Gogh Museum – focuses on all aspects of organising exhibitions.
Contemporary art, timeless inspiration
Thirteen contemporary artists were selected for this exhibition, all of them inspired by the sea and beach – as was Mesdag himself. Each work in the exhibition examined a different aspect of spending time at sea or on the beach. For example, Niloufar Banisadr offered an intriguing depiction of beach life with her photographs of beach towels, which only show the impression left where people have laid on them.
Henk Wildschut’s series of photographs captured tough seafarers while Maria Roelofsen revealed the beauty of objects abandoned on the beach with her sculptures created from beachcombed items. The mysterious world of the sea was depicted in the work of photographer Maura Biava – she even personally features in her photographs showcasing underwater scenes.
The works were displayed in the former living quarters of the building, but also in the stairwell of the museum and interspersed with the permanent collection. This helped to emphasise the connection between the permanent collection and the contemporary works. The shared source of inspiration with Mesdag was stressed more profoundly by Daphne Hatt’s glassworks and photographic imagery by Simon van Til. A video work by Linde Gadellaa was introduced to the public for the first time in the exhibition, while an installation made from mussel shells especially for Sea Dogs & Beach Guests by Indian artist Subodh Kerkar could be found in the garden.
Thirteen (inter)national artists
The exhibition featured work by: Niloufar Banisadr, Maura Biava, Linde Gadellaa, Daphne Hatt, Scarlett Hooft Graafland, Subodh Kerkar, Neel Korteweg, Bernhard Lang, Frans Polman, Emma van der Put, Maria Roelofsen, Simon van Til and Henk Wildschut. Some of the Dutch and international artists are established names in their field, while others are just starting out. The artists primarily focus on the disciplines of photography, video, sculpture and installations.
Mesdag Year and the Mesdag Collection
In 2015, we reflected on the centenary of Hendrik Willem Mesdag’s death. Seascapes and beach life were two of Mesdag’s favourite subjects for his paintings. The Mesdag Collection in The Hague presents a varied selection of these works, alongside the works of his contemporaries. The museum was founded by the artist himself, and is still home to the artworks that he collected. Mesdag lived next to the museum, and it is his former residence that houses the majority of the works in Sea Dogs & Beach Guests – an exhibition that took an intriguing approach to celebrating Mesdag’s fondness of the sea.
Especially for families
Sea Dogs & Beach Guests was focused on families with children. The ‘shell trail’ assisted visitors to the museum, encouraging younger art enthusiasts and their elder companions to discuss the works on display. This ‘shell trail’ featured numerous questions that families could turn to throughout the exhibition, working together to gain a better understanding of the art. Children were presented with a small memento at the end of their visit – a transfer tattoo that transformed them into a true sea dog or beach guest.
Interactive educational objects were also positioned in the exhibition spaces, such as stacks of cubes that could be touched and opened. The objects and assignments that children discovered in the cubes were designed to stimulate their senses.
Workshops and guided tours
A free public workshop for children was organised during the opening weekend, while another was held as part of The Big Draw – the world’s largest drawing festival that invites everyone to contribute to a huge joint drawing. Hendrik Willem Mesdag loved drawing and was keen for more people to take up a pencil. He viewed drawings not solely as preliminary sketches for paintings, but as artworks in their own right.
On two Sundays during the exhibition, the course participants were on hand to provide additional information about the featured works.
Catalogue activity book
A catalogue activity book was published to accompany Sea Dogs & Beach Guests. Priced at € 10, the book features games and assignments for children as well as the exhibition catalogue with texts introducing the artists.
Blog and social media
In the lead-up to the opening of the exhibition, visitors to the blog on the Mesdag Collection website were offered a glimpse behind the scenes of the making of Sea Dogs & Beach Guests. Each of the artists was introduced, while the blog also charted the progress of both the course and the creation of the exhibition.
‘The Art of Making Art Exhibitions’
‘The Art of Making Art Exhibitions’ is a course offering ambitious newcomers to the field an introduction to the creation of exhibitions. Every week, the group visits a relevant institution – such as a museum or art institute – to enter into discussion with professionals. Under the supervision of the Van Gogh Museum, the course offers them the opportunity to discover the field and build up a valuable network. As a final project, the participants are asked to independently organise an exhibition at the Mesdag Collection.
With thanks to
Sea Dogs & Beach Guests was supported by the Prins Bernhard Cultuurfonds, the VSB Fonds, Fonds 1818, the Gravin van Bylandt Stichting, De Gijselaar-Hintzenfonds and the Stichting Gilles Hondius Foundation.