An exhibition can’t be more ironic than this: contemporary Dutch artist Rob Scholte shows his collection of embroideries. Embroidery Show may have a tongue-in-cheek-character, the underlying idea is absolutely serious.

In the previous century, pastors and other positive thinkers used these examples of  femine home craft in sermons and pep talks: “Our life is like the back side of an embroidery. We often do not understand its meaning. Our existence seems so to be aimless and disorientated. But one day we’ll see the right side and than we will experience life in all its perfection!” Rob Scholte is interested in the fringes and the loose ends of the rear sides. With a boyish curiosity he looks for things that remain hidden for others: a swimming pool without water, the inside of a puppet theatre and the back of a magician’s table. Now the artist has thrown himself into embroidery works.

Embroidery Show 1
Embroidery Show 1

In 1995 Scholte left the Netherlands after a turbulent era that culminated into a bomb attack in which he lost both his legs. In 2005 the artist returned to his native country. In this drifitng society, Scholte looked for artistic havens. In that mood he came across the least hip art form he could possibly find: old fashioned embroidery works. These pieces were sold in large amounts in thrift shops and at car boot sales.

“I refuse to believe that people in my country look down upon traditional, hand-made embroideries. These works have been stitched by their mothers, their grandmothers and their great-grandmothers in their spare time with so much love and patience. The result of weeks, months and years of hard labour is sold by their heirs for a few euros. And what will replace them? Ikea art!,” Scholte says indignantly.

Embroidery Show 2
Embroidery Show 2

Many of these embroideries were derived from important works of art by Rembrandt, Vermeer, Van Gogh, Fragonard and Millet. Apparently the designers were impressed by these examples and this was their way of seeing such an image with their own eyes. Embroidery was also an effective way to find peace. In our days we try to unwind by using coloring books for adults. It is not such a far-fetched idea to restore the old-fashioned embroidery craft. Scholte has a lot of success with his Embroidery Show; the exhibition attracts large audiences.

Many embroideries resemble each other because they are simplified versions of their well-known originals. It has been an excellent idea of Scholte to exhibit them like this. Every embroidery, even if it has the same origin as another one, has its own character; the thick knots, the visible unwillingness to fasten off properly and the sparse use of materials give these images their own uniqueness and even some mystery. The front sides are so kitschy that they hurt your eyes, but the framed rear sides turn them into real art works. Scholte put his signature on the former front side, which has  now become the back, so the value of the works has increased significantly. Let’s hope that the heirs, who had thrown away the result of this diligent work so carelessly, won’t show up to claim Grandma’s work.

Embroidery Show 3
Embroidery Show 3

You get the impression that Rob Scholte, like his American colleague Jeff Koons, longs for the certainty and warmth that we have lost in our worked up society. Watching the innocent mountain scenes, the crying gypsy boys, the peaceful still lifes and the folded praying hands, your cynicism disappears and you start to crave for the peace and the patient dedication of the anonymous artists.

Embroidery Show is a logical step in Scholte’s career. His leitmotiv is to show well-known images in a new context that changes their meaning. This can be a painted family game, a copyrighted self-portrait, the Philips logo in the Nightlight painting, crucifixes in a bottle, marbles in a frame or a giant mural in the replica of Dutch Royal Palace Huis ten Bosch which was reconstructed in Japan.

Embroidery Show has become an intriguing exhibition. The back sides of the embroideries reconcile you with human existence. The fringes and the loose ends give colour and meaning to life. Please, don’t turn them around.

Johan Bakker and Rob Scholte
Johan Bakker and Rob Scholte

Museum De Fundatie, Zwolle / Catalogue Waanders & De Kunst