André Volten

Paul Goede, Amsterdam, 2010
Following a euphoric philosophical debate with his friends over a glass of Saint Estephe Grand Cru (never the easiest of wines), with Bach’s “Das Musikalísche Opfer” playing loudly in the background and a conspiratorial attitude uniquely suited to the occasion, André Volten took visible pleasure in ending the séance by announcing, in a warm and rapturous tone: “Now you can all sod off!”.

We should see his assertion that perhaps he was ‘not such a good painter’ in the light of such unusually colourful language, always much enjoyed by his friends (‘Andre Volten, Private Space and Public space’, authors Hein van Haaren and Rudi oxenaar, page 32). Andre Volten chose sculpture. He made this decision in the late modernist climate of l957 taking the rigorous attitude, typical of the time, that there could be ‘no turning back’. Then the roaring sixties arrived leaving very little room for the qualities of the previous decade. In such a climate Andre Volten worked for the ‘public space’. In retrospect his paintings can be interpreted as a programme for the sculptures Volten created thoughout the rest of his life. Among his numerous and varied experiments in form we can see the structures painted by Georg Baselitz in the eighties and alsolater (from an entirely different perspective) by Gunther Förg (see page 41, 1996 prize for complete works, a publication of the Dutch Foundation for Visual Arts, Design and Sculpture; also illustration 52 of the Mannheim catalogue).

I refer here in particular to Andre Volten’s l957 magnum opus consisting of ± ten geometrical abstracts in oil paint on wooden panels, which marked such a definitive end to his painting career. These black-white and black-white-red panels and reliefs have a similarly rigorous history. In 1957 they were lent out to an Exhibition in london. When the exhibition was over Andre Volten did not want them back, assuming that they would be given a permanent home there. In l970 he did the same thing with a stainless steel pillar for an exhibition at the Stormking Art Centre in New York. After a few ‘stopovers’ the pillar was eventually sold on to the Albert Einstein Hospital. The concept of this work later played a definitive role in the design of the huge stainless steel pillar in Breda (for the Turfschip’ congress centre). Andre Volten was commissioned to design a special plaza in Manhatan for one of the ‘stopovers’ in New York (see photo 93 of the publication by the Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum in Duisburg). This sublime design was never executed.

The follow-up effect of the geometric panels (1957) in London is not so clear, but ten years later (in 1967) I did notice that Andre Volten had established some excellent contacts in the city (sculptor Philip King and art historian Charles Spencer for example). Fortunately most of the panels and reliefs are now kept in the same place. The final scope of the series is unknown however. We can now study the connections between these panels and his later work, as well as their subsequent influence on other artists.

André Volten – Geometric composition, 1957

Andre Volten – Geometric composition, 1957