After spending almost a decade in Belgium, it was a sad stroke of fate—his mother’s terminal illness and death—that repatriated the Dutch artist Gabriel Lester (b. 1972), known for his films, performances and installations incorporating light and sound. Shortly after his return to the Netherlands in 2008, he was invited to mount an exhibition at the Boijmans Van Beuningen, a request that resulted in “Suspension of Disbelief,” his first museum solo, which opened at the same time as the country’s most important annual art fair, Art Rotterdam. This exhibition consists of 15 works—including a light installation, a slide projection, sculptures and a film—stretching through two large, dimly lit, ground-floor galleries, which come together to create an absorbing and enchanting environment.
Throughout the show, Lester explores fortune and misfortune, fate, belief and expectation. The first gallery pre-sents How to Act (2011)—a piece that the artist has remade on numerous occasions since his student days at Amsterdam’s Rijksakademie over 10 years ago. Flashes of pale green, light blue, red and yellow light are projected onto an otherwise empty white wall, accompanied by a dramatic musical score. The colored light bounces off the wall onto several nondescript potted plants nearby, suggesting the experience of observing the light of a TV set through a window. Given these minimal means, the viewer is left on his own to remember and imagine any number of scenarios and narratives.
A series of waist-high, cube-shaped sculptures on wheels was placed along the route through the atrium to the second space. Despite the sloping floor, the objects are static, as if caught in mid-slide; the installation mimics, to use the artist’s words, “a roll of dice.” Dimmed spotlights cleverly direct the viewer’s gaze past Richard Serra’s monumental Waxing Arcs (1980)—a piece in the museum’s permanent collection—to various small-scale sculptures by Lester. The Probable Composition of an Improbable Rockslide in the Dutch Mountains (2011), a 20-inch-wide diorama, presents a road at the bottom of a cliff. A car has just been hit by a rockslide, an unlikely situation in one of the world’s flattest countries. Together with other sculptures, it reiterates the theme of misfortune.
The Big One (2011), a 17-minute film that takes place in a theater with plush red seating and a well-dressed audience, is Lester’s latest work and the focal point of the second space. It is projected onto a large screen with a xylophone-and-trumpet audio track recalling eerie amusement-park music. The music is interrupted by occasional clapping and distant-sounding announcements by an agitated MC, played by the artist. In one scene, he wears a black suit and bowler hat, both covered in white numbers. As if on a surreal bingo night, numbers and letters are chosen by a giant rotating number generator installed in the high domelike ceiling. As the machine slows to a halt, the camera captures close-ups of expectant faces. This buildup of dramatic tension, which recurs in other dreamlike scenes, never reaches a climax and is never released.
Photo: Gabriel Lester: The Big One, 2011, film, 17 minutes; at the Boijmans Van Beuningen.