Universiteit Leiden

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Playing with light and shadow

Depictions of Rembrandt, Michelangelo and many other artists are given a new dimension in an exhibition in the hall of the Oude UB at Leiden University. The exhibition - 'Multiple Images' - opens officially on 15 February. Artist Rudi Struik has given the slides of Leiden art historian Henri van de Waal a new lease of life in his art installations.

Struik has created a mini cinema in the hall, where visitors can put together their own performance. The artist built lightboxes from wine crates and installations with artistic representations of screens. The result is a visual light and shadows spectacle of slides, the teaching material used by Professor Henri van de Waal. When he died in 1972, Van der Waal left behind an enormous image archive with at least 8,000 slides, more than 6,000 cameras and  a mass of dark room material.  

A series of slides with a portrait of Henri van de Waal in the centre.

Archive under threat

Part of this archive was under threat of being lost when the Print Room that had been part of the Art History department was incorporated into the Special Collections at the University Library. Although this collection was clearly special, it was not considered unique because of the many double items it contained and the fact that slides can be mass produced. The then curator asked Leiden Professor Kitty Zijlmans and her husband Rudi Struik whether they were interested in taking over the collection. Struik, whose artistic work includes recycling old materials, saw a green metal filing cabinet and was immediately interested. 

Saved from the bottle bank

Together they rescued thousands of slides, and the filing cabinet was transported to Struik's studio. Struik: ‘Van de Waal's memory is in these slides and I thought it would be a pity if nobody saw them again.' Struik experimented with all different ways of exhibiting them. He put the slides in lanterns so that they again became light images. He also scanned the old labels with very detailed descriptions and enlarged them onto white plates. Visitors to the exhibition can look for the images that match the labels.  

Exhibition

The design and construction of the exhibition were in the hands of artists Frida van der Poel and Antoon Ruigrok. Struik: ‘I was looking for artists who understand space and know how to modulate it so that the works of art and the space form a new unity. The exhibition shows their favourite slides, that together open up new worlds.' 

Visionary outlook

Van de Waal was an expert in Dutch art history from the 16th and 17th century, but he also had a visionary outlook on photography. In 1953, on behalf of the University he arranged the purchase of the Grégoire collection comprising thousands of  artistic photos. Museums were not interested at the time, but they later regretted their decision. His life story is memorable on several counts, Zijlmans commented. Van de Waal worked as a lecturer at Leiden University in 1940, but was dismissed because of his Jewish origin. He spent the war in camps and once the war ended he returned to Leiden. With his innovative theory on imagery, he inspired numerous art historians, some of whom will visit the exhibition on 15 February. Zijlmans: ‘This exhibition is also special because the material is directly linked to the history of the Art History programme and consequently to the history of Leiden University.' 

The work of Rudi Struik (1947) is characterised by its enormous diversity of materials and techniques. Perception, memory, selective history and the recontextualisation of objects and images are recurring themes in his repertoire. 

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