If you're familiar with Alex van Warmerdam's films and plays, the current exhibition in Stedelijk Museum Schiedam won't offer any big surprises. The majority of the work shown, ranging from paintings, posters and sketches to film stills and excerpts, is related in one way or another to his films. Still, it's fascinating to explore the visual universe of one of Holland's few auteurs.
Best known for films like 'De Noorderlingen' ('The Northerners'), 'De jurk' ('The Dress'), 'Grimm' and 'De laatste dagen van Emma Blank' ('The Last Days of Emma Blank'), Van Warmerdam was trained as a painter but started his career in theatre. He soon moved into film, debuting with 'Abel', and continued to write, direct, design as well as act in his films.
'De Noorderlingen' remains his masterpiece, a scathing satire of Dutch hypocrisy set in a new suburb that's not completed yet but for one unpaved street in a windy polder. The nearby forest, composed of stylized trees and stifled sounds, represents the dark subconscious of the new northerners... As the film poster sums it up, it is "an unusual film about love, religion and manslaughter".
As the exhibition shows, his work in theatre, film and painting all stems from the same set of obsessions (trees, naked women, etc.) and a distinct style of dark humor and Magritte-like absurdism. In a kind of artistic feedback loop, his theatre pieces turned into films, paintings turned into film sets, and film scenes turned into painted posters. The poster for 'Grimm' is a good example, a still from the film made into a painting - while there's a good chance the film evolved from sketches of this same visual moment.
Surprisingly little of Van Warmerdam's visual work can be found online, but to get an impression, here's a Dutch TV interview, where he complains ironically about being tired of those typical "Van Warmerdam trees".