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Crime Scene Investigation Report



Published in Metropolis M, No. 5, 2022

October 2022

In her 1990 polemic The Journalist and the Murder, literary journalist Janet Malcolm plots a curious case of journalistic record-making and the ethics surrounding it. Hinged on a trial whereby a three-time convicted murdered sues his biographer on the grounds of libel, the book unpacks the issue surrounding the subject-writer relationship—one that the murderer felt, in this instance, to be based in true friendship, resulting in him feeling ‘tricked’ by the journalist who feigned friendship for the sake of the story. When the book was released affirming his guilt, the misled murderer—despite the mountains of evidence against him and, of course, his actual conviction—sued, and won. 


I was coincidentally reading this book at the time of researching this article, and while being no literary journalist, tasked with the reconstructing the events pertaining to the now notorious 1996 de Appel exhibition Crap Shoot, I am compelled to pretend. Particularly since the exhibition itself ‘felt like a reconstruction of a crime scene’ doused in trickery and since my role is one akin Malcolm’s journalist: a piecing together of events via multiple perspectives. [1] Following some investigation into this literary genre, and poised with my trail of evidence surrounding Crap Shoot, I shall begin by noting that the proponents of literary journalism anchor their approach on a number of key tenets:


Tenet One: Scene-by-scene construction. In April of 1996 the de Appel curatorial training program, now in its second year, was nearing its end. Despite being founded only one year earlier by art historian and curator Saskia Bos, the program had already garnered an international reputation, attracting ambitious young curators and wide interest, as well as a magnifying lens through which pressure to perform was mounting. As the final days were rapidly approaching, the five curators composing that year’s program—Nina Folkersma, Annie Fletcher, Clive Kellner, Kay Pallister and Adam Szymczyk—were readying their final act as participants: the group exhibition Crap Shoot


A term originating from the game Craps—in which players roll a pair of dice, wagering on the outcome—‘crap shoot’ has come to metaphorically refer to something that has an unpredictable outcome, as in, to roll and bet on a pair of dice while playing Craps, wherein only luck offset by a semi-calculated risk is on your side, is to crap shoot. In appropriating a term so coded in unpredictability, the curators were seeking to ‘embrace the challenge of Institutional Critique with the question of whether it was still possible to be subversive,’ to quote participating artist Kendall Geers. [2]


Working only two years prior to the publication of Nicolas Bourriaud’s now landmark book Relational Aesthetics, the curators of Crap Shoot found themselves studying at a time when Institutional Critique was moving on from the subversion of the 1970s and 80s, towards a more social manifestation, towards, to steal Bourriad’s term for clarity, a more relational one. Human relations and their arising social context became integral to the development of a movement of art that would eventually result in the more constituent understanding of institutions adopted in the New Institutionalism of the mid 1990s and early 2000s (a key marker of this period was the reconception of the exhibition form as a social event in and of itself, heralded by the rise of public programming and educational turns). In the face of this, Crap Shoot could be formally regarded as the antithesis: a wholly anti-social endeavor. 


Legend has it—and documentation confirms—that on first encounter, the exhibition could easily be misconstrued as a site of multiple instances of vandalism. Already the talk of the town even before the exhibition opened, part of Maurizio Cattelan’s contribution, Another Fucking Readymade, April 11, 10:30AM (1996), involved breaking into Bloom Gallery, ‘the coolest gallery in town at the time’, run by staple Amsterdam gallerists Annet Gelink and Diana Stigter, stealing the entire contents—including the freshly installed exhibition by Paul de Reus, the complete gallery administration and all computers and accompanying office furniture—and relocating it to de Appel, where it was to hide primed for the grand reveal at the opening the following evening. [3]


In a similar gestures of disavowal, Kendall Geers threw a brick through the exterior window of de Appel and left the debris, scattered internally in the gallery space, ‘composed according to the laws of chance’, and duo Jes Brinch & Henrik Plenge Jakobsen destroyed the ticket booth at the entrance to the gallery, installing a temporary desk in front its remains. The curators also had a go at dislocating the social choreography of de Appel by blocking off the usual entrance and forcibly redirecting the audience to enter via spiral staircase that rain through the bowels of the building like a small intestine. Fittingly, artist duo Halter/Gratwohl built a toilet in the middle of the gallery, its pipes exposed against all interior decoration odds, much like any visitor who dared to use it: while not overtly exposed to the public (the toilet was concealed, clad with plaster walls), fellow visitors could observe you both entering the toilet and could audibly here your activities within it—which were, in another impulse towards exposure, documented before your very eyes by a CCTV camera activated once you sat down on the toilet seat. Intrigued and faced with only a small number of installation images, it became clear that a second trait of literary journalism was integral to piecing together this historical puzzle, that being: 


Tenet Two: Interview. I meet Nina Folkersma twenty-six years later at her office in Amsterdam on a mild, midsummers day. It’s afternoon. We coincidentally find each other at the entrance to the building, Folkersma having just popped home to retrieve her archive on the exhibition. ‘This folder was once proudly on my bookshelf, but I’ve moved homes a number of times over the years and just had to go up to the attic to get it.’ She speaks of the de Appel program and the work she did there with the fondness of a formative experience, and the dusty binder she forages through as she talks—labelled down the spine with the image that came to be synonymous with the exhibition, a dog staring down the barrel of the camera with a dice placed in the void of each nostril—makes me aware that I am dealing with a piece of history that is not only art historical but also personal.


‘We were a diverse group,’ she tells me, ‘five young curators, three of which were from very contested places at the time. Adam from Warsaw, Annie from Dublin and Clive from Johannesburg. It created a feeling of wanting to disrupt this so-called “tolerant”, “perfect” Dutch world that we found ourselves in.’ I ask her what her position was within this, being the only Dutch participant at the time. ‘I was young, I suppose I was more optimistic. It was clear within the group that there were two approaches to the notion of subversion. On the one hand, Clive, Annie and I were more of the view that disruption could be creative, we had a belief in the power of art. Adam and Kay, who had come from New York and London [two aggressively capitalist art epicenters], were much more cynical. You could really feel these two positions in the exhibition, and you could feel that the volatility was important.’ 


Perhaps due to this, Folkersma notes that it was necessary for them as curators that they actually cross the line and do something illegal: they didn’t want the exhibition to fall purely into the realm of symbolism, as is often the Achilles Heel of institutionally critical work. ‘We were fixated on the radical gesture in art, but also on the alibi of art.’ The power of this was particularly potent when it came to Cattelan’s contribution, which was, there is no way around it, an illegal act. Aware of this, the curators even hid the knowledge of the work from Saskia Bos, the founder and director of the curatorial program, knowing that she would censor the work in protection of the institution as she was in part entrusted with. With such a move, they defied the institution and rendered themselves complete co-conspirators, or as Cattelan later affectionately called them in a piece of correspondence, ‘my crime companions.’


Perhaps unbeknownst to the curators, the ‘alibi of art’ was (at least) two fold. Firstly, there was the obvious one: an artwork pushing at the limits of the law. This in itself had an historical precedent. There is the 1977 Ulay work, in which he stole a painting called The Poor Poet (1839) by Carl Spitzweg, Hilter’s favourite painter, from the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin. There is also the work of Christopher D’Arcangelo, an unapologetically institutional critical artist from the late 1970s who would handcuff himself to the doors of museums, walk into the Louvre and remove a painting from the wall or spray-paint a slogan atop the plexiglass protecting another, all actions resulting in his subsequent arrest.


While critics of Crap Shoot—of which there were many—would exclaim unoriginality (vocalised in the completely redundant phrase ‘it’s been done before’), the point of this very work, and the exhibition at large, was to question the possibility of subversion now, in the wake of the socially-oriented, pseudo-hospitality of relational aesthetics, as well as, it is important to remember, within the Netherlands, a place that proclaims progressiveness internationally but which operates in actuality as a staunch defender of the status quo. It makes sense that artists and curators were then working with artistic techniques developed with that very objective in mind at other historical junctures. What’s more, as Cattelan noted, the work was about ‘appropriation’, which, arguably, signalled a shift in the post-modernist manifestation of this—whereby appropriation often signalled homage or recontextualisation—towards our more contemporary understanding of appropriation, cultural and otherwise, as theft. 


This went as far as to subvert the standard operating procedures of the local police, who when faced with larceny are tasked with tracking down the stolen goods and taking them into evidence. Instead, the police gave Cattelan and the curators two hours to return the property, warning that if they exceeded this time limit they would obtain a criminal record. When speaking with Folkersma, this struck me as intriguingly generous (a term rarely associated with the police force and their methods of discipline), and speaks to the paradoxical seriousness with which parties privy to the work took it: the police offered a mere tap on the wrist (‘Oh it’s just art, it’s not real’), while the press donned the curators, and de Appel in their wake, ‘five young criminals in a ghost house.’


Secondly, however, and maybe only noticeable in retrospect, the work also preyed on the power binary forged between artist and curator, giving Cattelan an alibi for the work, despite it literally carrying his name. In this case, the artist really was pushing the curator’s loyalty to the brink. As former Bloom gallerist Annet Gelink noted to me, ‘They were completely manipulated. Cattelan didn’t do any of the theft himself, they all did it for him, including negotiating with the residents above the gallery to leave the window open for them to climb in.’ [4]


Folkersma keeps the evidence of this safely in her attic, its dual-nature retaining both an art history and the actual fact of a crime. One piece of evidence in particular, on which a timeline is penned in green marker, chronicles the twenty-four hours leading up to the opening, during which the frantic flurry surrounding the exhibition can be felt in full force:


Thursday, April 11
7:00am:Maurizio Cattelan together with curators break into Bloom Gallery
                 Steal everything
8:00am: Put all the stuff in de Appel
12.30pm: Diana Stigter from Bloom calls de Appel
                 After short consultation the curators decide to go to the gallery and explain
14:00pm: At the Bl. Gal [Bloom Gallery] police make notes: everything back in two hours 
                otherwise arrested
16:00pm: Back in Bloom, hang the show
18/19:00: De Appel, informing Saskia Bos
23:00: Writing letter to Bloom girls, while other artists work on the show


Friday, April 12
   Not allowed to talk to the press
13:30: Article in Het Parool    
   Statement from MC and curators required
18:15: Statement hung on wall
Opening Crap Shoot


While Folkersma’s archival evidence counteracts Gelink’s claim that Cattelan wasn’t present during the theft, the implication still stands regardless of the reality: they were actively involved. And the pieces of proof left behind in the wake of their scheming were ultimately how Gelink and Stigter tracked down the culprits.

Tenet Three: Character development. Upon arriving to work that sunny morning following a studio visit, Gelink and Stigter were greeted by a slightly ajar front door, the all-consuming shock that they had robbed and a Post-it stuck to the bare wall of the gallery stating: Everything will be returned soon. [5] After the initial shock wore off, they called the police and set to work asking around if anyone knew of anything, to which the tenant above, persuaded by guilt, offered up, ‘I think you should call de Appel.’ It was Folkersma who answered the phone. 


When I asked her how she felt about it in retrospect, now that the initial betrayal and ‘disrespect’ had potentially warn off, she said, ‘I think it is not one of his best works, to put it mildy.’ She laughs as she says it, and neutralises the opinion with the clarification that she is a big fan of his, and was especially at the time. ‘We even had a meeting at the gallery a few days before, I was very interested in his work.’ During the meeting, Cattelan was acting strangely, taking photos of anything and everything and getting up and lying under the desk mid conversation. But given his notoriety, Gelink put this behaviour down to his trickster persona, one he fosters and repackages in many of his works as his ultimate artistic capital. After what transpired, it’s now clear he was simply doing his research. 


Before hanging up I tell her that I am still trying to find my position in this piece, wondering why a reconstruction of it is relevant now. At this point, warmed by nostalgia, she adds, ‘In retrospect I think it’s really funny, of course. It really questions the role between artist and curator. Nowadays its about the market, not the idea.’ Speaking as a commercial gallerist, this strikes me as an interesting lament. It prompts me to recalled Folkersma telling me in her office just the day before that Bloom Gallery would later place the infamous image of Cattelan’s stolen goods in Artforum as an advertisement, turning a bad situation into a good one by appropriating a work about appropriation for their own benefit—a kind of tongue-in-cheek reparation, or, perhaps, an affect of something the exhibition was trying to critique in the first place. As Adam Szymczyk commented, ‘the exhibition showed us the variety of ways these radical acts are negotiated and co-opted within the art system.’ [6]


This was another driving force for the curatorial team. Szymczyk comments that at the time, ‘de Appel seemed to be super solid institution in the centre of the city. We were against the self-satisfaction mode of contemplating radical practices in a place like de Appel, a temple of Institutional Critique that would neutralise the subject. We were aware of the irony of being subsidised to do subversive art and so we wanted to put the institution in a position where it had to respond.’ [7] And respond it did, with a demand for a statement by the curatorial team and a press conference, in which the media slung their distain at the young curators in full force, evidence of which Folkersma pulled out of the binder one-by-one, piling up to be a true public grilling. As Kendall Geers reflected, ‘I think that moment marked every one of us albeit in different ways. I was deeply disillusioned by what I had imagined the art system in Europe to be and shocked by the conservatism and art historical ignorance. Maurizio was furious and said to me that he was fed up with the art system and that he was going to make money instead.’ [8]


The irony of the barrage of negative press that ensued was that the participants were depicted as ‘brain-washed junkies’ despite the fact that the main impetus was to go against the institution and what it was feeding them, corroborated by the fact that they left Saskia Bos in the dark surrounding the theft. Yet despite the media backlash manifesting as an attack on the curatorial program and its production of ‘little monsters’, one thing is for sure: the program pails now in comparison to what it was then, and de Appel is no longer the temple of Institutional Critique holding court in the centre of the city. Or is this simply the affect of history—they do say there is nothing more foreign than the recent past—that now time has ticked over we can look back and see, as is the case with this specific group, that many of its alumni went on to hold senior positions at the largest art institutions in the country and beyond—from Van Abbe Museum and the Irish Museum of Modern Art (Fletcher), Gagosian (Pallister), Amsterdam Art (Folkersma), Joburg Contemporary Art Foundation and the Johanessburg Art Gallery (Kellner), to the Stedelijk Museum, Kunsthalle Basel and the supposed pinnacle of all curatorial pinnacles: documenta (Szymczyk)—and who’s to say the same won’t be for the current participants. Yet thanks to the passing of time, we can also see that the show had a pivotal place in a key moment of institutional practice, even though Szymczyk noted, when I asked him about how he places the show in relation to these developments so easily discernable now, that ‘at the time we weren’t really thinking that much about the positioning of the show in relation to Institutional Critique or Relational Aesthetics.’


Instead, he notes an ‘un-PC’ attitude that underpinned the exhibition, something felt in the lasting fact that not one female artist was present in the exhibition, as well as in a number of works that pushed at the boundaries of consent, like Geers’ work Title Withheld (Private Eye) (1996), for which he hired a private eye who followed Rudi Fuchs for a number of days, or Cattelan’s Untitled (1996), whereby he replaced the doormat with a mirror—a classically misogynist up-skirt joke. Such elements date the show slightly (though Geers’ more in relation to how surveillance technology has evolved), but they also work to centre the current dichotomy around the need for institutions to foster radical practice—art is a space where we should be pushed to think differently after all—and to be all-inclusive, addressing the lacks of the past while also being expected to address literally everyone, and safely so.  


Importantly, Geers noted that ‘I did exactly the same thing that Vito Acconci did in following someone except that I was following a powerful white male curator so flipping the power relation. Many people were outraged that I dared "spy" on Rudi Fuchs but had no trouble with Acconci following an anonymous stranger.’ In adopting various techniques of subversion, the exhibition did go a long way in revealing biases in the viewership and in the media, who seemed to only be able to comprehend it on terms of the literal (and perhaps relatable too, as older white males like Fuchs), rather than through the act of subversion proper. And if the concrete actions of the theft and vandalism were misleading, they were anchored by more symbolic works like Jeroen Eisinga’s performance and accompanying film 40–44–PG (1995), in which the artist walks blindfolded while be circled by a moving car, manipulated to revolve on only one side. Speaking of crimes and reconstruction, the evidence was there if you were wanting.


Geers further noted, ‘A work of art is only subversive when power is exposed for what it is. Many of the questions that made Crap Shoot so subversive at the time are now being asked by conservative museums having to question not only the history of their collections but also the ways they are exhibited.’ [9] On this I agree with him. Tenet Four: Voice. The voice of the author must emerge. Artistic techniques taken up in this exhibition—appropriation, plagiarism, theft, destruction, imitation, regurgitation, the production of spectacle—are all part and parcel of the composition of the museum. Ironically, what seems to be missing from the equation when it comes to current museum practice—and most urgently needed—is the risk, the willingness to divert from the status quo that underpinned the impetuous of the exhibition in the first place. That and the willingness to go against what is demanded of museums by funding bodies and their compulsion towards populist agendas of ‘audience expansion’ via palatable spectacle. Relevantly, and in returning to the local context from which this exhibition sprung, we find ourselves at a time when the director of the national funding body endeavours to destabilise the local art ecology in service of the development of a Palais de Tokyo of Friesland—the museum, certainly uncoincidentally, founded by Nicolas Bourriad himself. [10]


Midway through her book, Malcolm writes, ‘For what the incident is about, what lies below its light surface, is the dire theme of Promeathian theft, of transgression in the service of creativity, of stealing as the foundation of making.’ [11] While the curators and artists of Crap Shoot weren’t exactly stealing from the gods to empower the people, they were similarly concerned with, for want of a less-worn phrase, speaking truth to power. The anticipation at the heart of the contemporary infatuation with forms like the true crime novel, or the magic trick or even the roll of the crap shooting dice all hangs on the same thing: the reveal. What’s been revealed in my efforts to reconstruct this piece of local art history, one anchored to minor instances of Promethean theft, is that all involved, no matter what side of the action, contend one thing: ‘we really need a show like this now.’ [12]

[1] Adam Szymczyk in a Zoom conversation with the author, August 12,2022.

[2] Quoted in an e-mail from Kendall Geers to the author,  August 9, 2022.

[3] Multiple people throughout the interviews I conducted, including Nina Folkersma and Domeniek Ruyters, referred to Bloom Gallery as this.

[4] Annet Gelink in a Zoom conversation with the author, August 9, 2022.

[5] Interestingly, Nina Folkersma remembers the calling card a little differently. She notes that it said something to the effect of: Don’t worry, everything will be okay. The assuring tone missing from Gelink’s account, and present in Folkersma’s, attests to the different emotional stakes embedded in the action at hand.

[6] Adam Szymczyk in a Zoom conversation with the author, August 12,2022.

[7] Adam Szymczyk paraphrased from a Zoom conversation with the author, August 12, 2022.

[8] Quoted in an e-mail from Kendall Geers to the author, August 9, 2022.

[9] Quoted in an e-mail from Kendall Geers to the author, August 9, 2022.

[10] As outlined in the recently released report  ‘Research Art Stages: An International Perspective’ by the Mondriaanfonds, 2022.

[11] Janet Malcolm, The Journalist and the Murderer (New York: Random House, 1990), 14.

[12] Annet Gelink in a Zoom conversation with the author, August 9, 2022.

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