Personal Structures: Introduction


Personal Structures is a project aiming at introducing in writing, pictures and in exhibitions, a number of international artists whom we believe, for all their individuality, to have much in common concerning their intentions.


The observation that even in the most distant corners of the world and independent of one another, closely related artistic problems are being worked on, led to the idea of bringing several of these artists together. With this undertaking, the goal was to start communication with and among the artists, and to offer them a forum.


Personal Structures is not an artist group, at least not in the sense of an artist group within the classical modern movement. Generally, such artists adhered to a binding program, and were often or­ganized in an association with certain membership rules. The ideological definition of art, professions to a certain art, manifestos and diatribes were the expression of an avant-garde consciousness, which was directly tied in with the notion of a linear history of progress in art. This teleological idea of history has long since been questioned and proven untenable for doing justice to an increasingly complex pluralistic world with its diverse artistic attitudes. Thus, Personal Structures is not a group, but may rather be compared to an open forum, where different individuals meet and communicate.  

The making of PERSONAL STRUCTURES, 55th Venice Biennale 2013

In 2002 the Dutch artist Rene Rietmeyer initiated the project ­PERSONAL STRUCTURES, an open platform, where artists can present their work and thoughts in exhibitions, symposia and publications.

While exhibiting in Asia, North America and Europe, Rietmeyer met several other artists who were also working with Time, Space and Existence. These encounters made it feel logical to bring these artists together in a try to make the more philosophical topics “en vogue” in the world of contemporary art. Beginning in 1999, Rietmeyer contacted several artists and explained his ideas to create a project with them and in 2002 he had brought together a loose grouping of “young” artists from different parts of the world.

The project title was chosen as a reaction upon the exhibition ­Primary Structures from 1966, of the ‘minimalists’ Donald Judd, Carl Andre and others, who, at that time, were claiming to create ­‘non-subjective’ art; art without the “touch” of the artist; ­non-personal. Rietmeyer however claims his work is subjective, ‘personal’. His Boxes, as well as all other artworks are PERSONAL STRUCTURES.

In 2003 the first book “Personal Structures: Works and Dialogues” was published, containing interviews with 16 artists by the ­German art-historian Peter Lodermeyer and exhibitions were held in Japan, USA, the Netherlands, Austria, Hungary and Germany. The first symposium was organized at the Ludwig Museum in ­Germany; the project became larger and more complex. ­Rietmeyer, who did all of the organization by himself, needed assistance and started looking for a curator.

In February 2005 I, Sarah, met Rene Rietmeyer at the Rotterdam Art Fair. I had just finished my Masters in Art History and I was working as an assistant curator for the Caldic Collection in the Netherlands. Rene gave me a copy of “Personal Structures: Works and Dialogues” and told me to contact him. I was 26 years old at the time and this seemed an interesting opportunity: to be able to organize ­exhibitions and have the chance to work at an international top level. We started to cooperate.

Rene liked the idea of organizing more symposia, where artists can speak for themselves, and wanted to publish the spoken thoughts in significant publications. We felt that there was a necessity to do so; according to our opinion words from a direct source give a better insight than interpretations of an art historian. So we decided to ask artists whether they would be interested to participate in future symposia which we were to organize.

On 1 July 2006, when Rene and I were on our way to Moordrecht in the Netherlands for an erotic evening, Rene explained to me why Time, Space and Existence are the most fundamental ­subjects he can think of and that they are essential for his work. Time, Space and Existence not only seem to be the most interesting philosophical subjects of mankind, but probably even long before these topics were discussed under a Greek olive tree, the thoughts about these concepts have been visualized in art works. So, ­driving in the car, we decided to continue to organize symposia, to which we would invite artists. Shortly after, one evening whilst sitting in a bathtub, we decided to separate the topics, organizing a symposium about Time in Amsterdam, Space in New York City, and Existence in Tokyo.

We were able to arrange a symposium and exhibition date at the ­oldest art society in Amsterdam, Arti et Amicitiae. However, to get heard with a group of young artists was not easy. Better would be to ‘glue’ some others to the project who already established a name for themselves. Over the years, Rene had met in Japan a.o. Lawrence Weiner and Joseph Kosuth and both liked the idea to speak about Time.

That winter, 2006-2007 we stayed in Miami Beach, Florida, USA, where at that time Rene had one of his studios. Besides some exhibitions we had organized in Florida, we had to be present at the art fair in Miami, in order to earn extra money to finance our project. The finances would solely have to come out of the sales of Rene’s artworks.

As usual money was scarce, but we started nevertheless, and back in Europe, we had a meeting with Joseph Kosuth in Vienna, Austria. Besides contributing to our Time symposium, Joseph said that he would be interested in coming to Tokyo and speak about Existence. He suggested to organize the symposium in 2008 during Sakura, the cherry blossom time.

But before going to Japan, we had to realise our first symposium in Amsterdam, which was scheduled for 15 and 16 June 2007. One month before that symposium, I, Karlyn, joined into the ­project—after responding to an ad on the website of Leiden ­University in the Netherlands, where I was doing a Research ­Master in Art History at that time. With the upcoming symposium series, Sarah and Rene knew the project would be expanding even more and were therefore looking for an additional curator. It was 14 May when I met them for the first time and I immediately took my chance to become part of PERSONAL STRUCTURES.

The day of the symposium came. Lawrence Weiner, Roman Opalka, Jo Baer, Henk Peeters, Klaus Honnef... It was very special to bring all these sincere people together and to hear them speak about the passing of time. Now, almost two years after the death of Roman Opalka and the death of Henk Peeters last week, it feels even more special.

After the Amsterdam symposium, we kept in contact while I, ­Karlyn, finished my studies and went to Italy for three months, to work at the Venice Biennale. I remember well, that one evening in September 2007, the three of us met in Venice. While walking over the quay along the Bridge of Sighs to San Marco square, we spoke about the future. Sarah and I had just visited some Biennale ­exhibitions together and discussed the possibility of organising our own PERSONAL STRUCTURES exhibition some day as an ­official part of the Biennale. At that time, it was just a dream.

All our money went always into our project, the interviews, the ­symposia; we could only survive because the Belgian collector, Andre Carez, bought a large installation from Rene’s work. In March 2008, we flew to Tokyo together. Google had showed us that in Tokyo the cherry blossom time was most likely to begin in the first week of April, and we were able to get a symposium date scheduled at the Setagaya Art Museum for 2 and 3 April 2008.

We had rented a traditional Japanese house with sliding doors, paper walls and an old Japanese toilet and bath system. Japan was a completely different experience. During the whole period when we were in Japan preparing our symposium, it had been very cold and wet and the trees did not show any sign that they were to blossom soon. Also, for some weeks we had not heard from Joseph Kosuth. I, Sarah, was very happy when on 31 March, my cell phone rang and I heard Joseph saying “I am in Tokyo, let’s meet”. The next day, out of nowhere, the cherry blossoms opened up everywhere: Sakura had started.

The two days of the symposium were unusual. We were unable to understand most of the contributions because our speakers mainly spoke Japanese. Also we noticed that what we consider to be logic is not universal. All the more, we were confirmed that also these—for us often unusual—points of view are very interesting and need to be heard just like other opinions that might be more conform our own point of view.

What we remember most from those two days was Toshikatsu Endo, who represented Existence merely by the sound of his voice and his being—and the lunch breaks with everybody eating sushi in the museum park under the cherry blossoms. In the metro on the way back to our Japanese house, discussing Endo’s speech and his interest in Hermann Nitsch, we decided to minimize our own judgements and document artistic achievements regardless our own personal visual taste. To enrich our project also with artists whose works ­visually seemed very different, but who are clearly concerned with Time, Space and Existence, in their own personal way. Shortly after we would have the first contact with Nitsch.

Broke as usual we went back to the USA. We recovered financially, but in September 2008 the art-world almost came to a financial standstill. Different people advised us that it would be wise to ­postpone the last symposium and the printing of our book ­Personal Structures: Time-Space-Existence number 1, but we felt that if we would do that, we might never be able to continue. So, all of us decided not to stop, but spend privately as little money as possible and continue to give this project our best efforts, the maximum of our capabilities.

For meetings with possible speakers for our New York symposium we drove by car from Miami to New York. On the road we discussed more in detail also another facet of PERSONAL STRUCTURES that would run parallel to our exhibitions and symposia: the series of Art Projects. We wanted to make special edition books of documented Art Projects, to centralize the work and ideas of specific artists; to be involved and learn from the inside what their work is about. We had already started with the On Kawara project, and we were now trying to create projects with Lawrence Weiner, Roman Opalka, Joseph Kosuth, Hermannn Nitsch, Hamish Fulton and Lee Ufan.

Our next symposium about SPACE was held on 3 and 4 April 2009 in the New Museum in New York. Although Sarah and Rene were not able to join because the US immigration considered speaking at your own symposium to be work and they had no work permit, with serious contributions from a.o. Richard Tuttle, Keith Sonnier, Peter Halley and Robert Barry, the New York symposium became a great success.

Now we had completed three symposia and had recorded a lot of spoken text. It was time to settle down somewhere in Europe in order to finish our publication. Rene had been invited to participate at the 53rd Venice Biennale, therefore we decided to rent in May 2009 an apartment in Venice. Also, we had been asked to organize a small symposium during the opening of the Biennale, we invited a.o. Marina Abramović. Being so closely involved, we learned several aspects of the Venice Biennale.

It took us several months of non-stop work, but in October 2009 we completed the publication PERSONAL STRUCTURES: TIME-SPACE-EXISTENCE number 1 and it became time for new projects. Rene, Sarah and I had started living together in Venice and the idea of organizing an exhibition as part of the Venice Biennale came to the foreground again. With hundred thousands of visitors, it seemed the right surroundings to pursue our wish to create a more widespread awareness about Time, Space and Existence.

In the years since we had joined PERSONAL STRUCTURES, Sarah and I had, however, never really organized a very large and ­complex exhibition. The city of Bregenz in Austria gave us the chance ‘to learn’, and in January 2010 we organized an exhibition there, presenting 27 artists. It became a wonderful exhibition in a large beautiful Palais and although not many people visited our exhibition, we learned a lot.

After the opening in Bregenz, we drove to the Netherlands and met with Lawrence Weiner for our first PERSONAL STRUCTURES ART PROJECT: we stayed 24 hours on his boat Joma in Amsterdam. ­Having survived the cold and experienced Lawrence, we returned to Venice where we took the first steps toward our own Biennale ­exhibition: an appointment with Paolo Scibelli, director of Collateral Events at La Biennale. It was a very promising meeting. He gave us all possible support and said: “First, you need a space.”

There was this Palazzo which had the potential to fulfil Sarah’s and my dreams: a prime location, a beautiful building with a rich history and the potential of an incredible exhibition space: ­Palazzo Bembo. However, there were some difficult aspects: the rent was very high and the building was in a very bad condition, but nevertheless we loved it.

In May 2010 we went to Naples in Italy for our second Art Project with Hermann Nitsch, in which we were crucified and ‘fed’ blood. It was an intense week, with many unusual experiences. ­Immediately after that we needed a break and the three of us drove with our old car to Sicily. There, overlooking the ­Mediterranean, we decided to continue also privately together, and, although we did not have the money for it, to take the risk and to rent Palazzo Bembo.

But before we could start our Venice project, we got a unique opportunity: our third Art Project with Roman Opalka. We could document a day in his life, while the minutes were ticking away. From Sicily, we drove almost directly through to Beaumont-sur-Sarthe, the house and studio of Opalka, two hours South-West from Paris, France. It was very unique, to watch him paint and to hear him speak his numbers in Polish. To see the emotion in his face and his body, it was very special.

Back in Venice, we started step-by-step the process of securing ­Palazzo Bembo for our exhibition. By the end of October 2010, the first artist came to see the space: Roman Opalka. The Palazzo was still in a disastrous condition. But Opalka seemed to have ‘Venice ­experience’ and said that this was quite ‘normal’. Days later, we explained Joseph Kosuth our plans for Venice in his Rome studio. He did not say “yes”, but he did not say “no” either. Instead, he ­suggested to, just in case, reserve a space for him. And after all deadlines had past, Kosuth wrote us “…in any case, do know that I will participate in your show. This is what I’ve been wanting to tell you.” Shortly after, Lee Ufan was to visit Venice. He climbed over scaffolds, slid through narrow hallways, until he chose a ‘corner room’, which he wanted to cover with white marble split on the floor, combining it with a ­painting and a ‘medium size’ stone. And in between, we had to drive to Austria, where we visited Nitsch in Prinzendorf to show him our special edition “HERMANN NITSCH: UNDER MY SKIN” and proposed our idea for PSAP #05 to Arnulf Rainer.

With the upcoming deadline for the Biennale application, the ­organizational work became more intense. We had no ‘Venice ­experience’ yet and there were many new aspects we had to deal with, they all seemed necessary steps in order to get to where we are today. At the end of December 2010, we were ‘prepared’ for the ­Biennale, but we needed money urgently. With the help of the ­collector Andre Carez, Sarah was able to place several of Rene’s installations by different collectors. Now, we were financially ­stable enough to start losing money again on our Palazzo Bembo project.

At the beginning of January 2011, the three of us went to Tenerife for our fifth Art Project. As requested by Arnulf Rainer, we had made photos, on our bed, showing us ‘veil dancing’ together, naked. After giving Rainer the photos, he had new requests, many more requests, and he did not stop until today. He understood that with the two of us, he could live out all his artistic fantasies. Unfinished into Death.

It had taken eight months of negotiations, until we finally signed the lease contract for Palazzo Bembo in February 2011. Looking back, the way we financed our project was very unusual, we had to do everything necessary and we still wonder how we ­financially survived this. Fortunately, we also got a lot of support from the artists, especially those who knew our project well and who had already worked with us before, were very generous. Lee Ufan for example allowed us to sell one of his paintings whereby giving his share to our GlobalArtAffairs Foundation. Hermann Nitsch and Arnulf Rainer made editions with us from the art works that came forth out of our Art Projects. The money earned with selling these PERSONAL STRUCTURES ART EDITIONS came also to the benefit of our Foundation.

In the weeks before the opening several artists came to Palazzo Bembo to create their work: Yuko Sakurai arrived from Paris, Judy Millar from New Zealand, SASAKI came from Los Angeles, Toshikatsu Endo from Tokyo, Andrew Putter from Cape Town and Johannes Girardoni from New York. They all came to create their individual installations. Rene painted his Boxes in his room and ­finished just before the arrival of his intellectual ‘sparring partner’ Joseph Kosuth. Lee Ufan came to place his stone, painting and metal plate and arranged the lighting. Everybody came to Palazzo Bembo: Peter Halley, Arnulf Rainer, herman de vries and Tatsuo Miyajima, all seemingly from different worlds. Encounters between artists who had never met before or had not seen each other for many years. It was beautiful to see our exhibition grow with the active participation of all these artists.

During the exhibition, we were present every day to speak with everybody about PERSONAL STRUCTURES; it was fantastic to see over 70,000 visitors coming to see our exhibition. Ministers, ­presidents, Trustees from many different museums, such as from the Guggenheim New York, K21 Düsseldorf, the Städel Museum Frankfurt and Fumio Nanjo with the Board members from the Mori Art Museum Tokyo, and many more. Besides the enormous ­financial pressure, we had a glorious time: a Palazzo on the Grand Canal by the Rialto bridge, an exhibition with world-class artists and artworks, and wonderful reviews in the press. Particularly ­special was the day we had organized a brunch for Andre Carez and his friends from Belgium, who had financially rescued us last December. While we were drinking a Bellini on the balcony ­overlooking the Grand Canal, the collector Gerhard Lenz and Roman Opalka joined us. It would be the last time we would see Roman before he died a few weeks later on 6 August 2011.

In the meantime, we had established a good relationship with the owner of Palazzo Bembo and we had created an excellent operational team, mainly students from the University of Venice, amongst them Davide De Carlo and Valeria Romagnini. With such a great team, a ­flexible Palazzo owner, a perfect location in Venice and an excellent exhibition space, we decided to continue with ‘our’ Palazzo.

A large art exhibition in 2013 and 2015 seemed very well possible, but 2012 and 2014 looked much more complicated. It were Manuela Lucà-Dazio and Paolo Scibelli, the two directors from La Biennale who encouraged us to organize also an exhibition during the Architecture Biennale. The idea of including architects in our project had been often thought about, especially in 2009 when we organized our symposium about SPACE in the New Museum in New York.

An exhibition with a similar setup as PERSONAL STRUCTURES was a logical choice: exhibiting architects of many different countries, combining young and upcoming with well-established architects. We also invited the Chinese artist Ying Tianqi, who in his artworks often uses architectural ‘ruins’ to question subjects such as the passing of time and our relationship to the past. With the help of Valeria Romagnini in the organisation, the exhibition became an interesting cross-over between art and architecture presented by 57 architects, raising all types of questions about time, space and architecture that were also actively discussed in a symposium about Chinese Art and Architecture on 28 August 2012.

With Davide De Carlo and Nicolas D’Oronzio, who had joined in January 2012, now overseeing all works needed at Palazzo Bembo, and them even handling the ‘Venice International Performance Art Week’ which we hosted in December 2012, we could begin with the organisation of our new Art Biennale exhibition. We started exploring the art world also with the help of Google, looking for artists ‘hidden’ in ‘far away’ parts of the world, but who are also ­sincerely concerned with Time, Space and Existence. With the help of several artists, we managed to find financial support from ­governmental institutions and all kinds of different sponsors. Since I, Karlyn, had re-started to paint, I wanted to be present in the ­exhibition as an artist and I would be responsible for the catalogue and the next big book, while Valeria and Sarah would curate the exhibition together with Francesca Crudo and Carol Rolla, who both had joined our Foundation in September 2012. It were tough months for them filled with endless emails and telephone calls, but on 15 December 2012, we handed in our proposal for a new ­PERSONAL STRUCTURES 2013 exhibition to La Biennale.

Having now some ‘Venice experience’, we decided that besides organising our own PERSONAL STRUCTURES exhibition, we would expand our organisation and host five other exhibitions during the 2013 Venice Biennale, with which we hopefully will earn enough money to pay for our own exhibition and publications and whereby we can give many more young people a chance to get involved in the art-world.

In the meantime, we have published our sixth Art Project, with Lee Ufan, and PSAP #07 Ben Vautier and hopefully PSAP #08 Yoko Ono are in the making. From the beginning of our series of Art Projects it was clear to us that we did not want to only publish them in exclusive limited editions. To make our projects available to a larger public, at least an excerpt had to be printed in our next ‘Big Red Book’: PERSONAL STRUCTURES: TIME SPACE EXISTENCE, number 2. For this publication again all artists were very ­supportive: Marina Abramović, Otto Piene, Arata Isozaki, Li Chen and Carl Andre all gave last-minute interviews, to make sure that this book can be ready and printed before the opening of the Venice Biennale 2013.

We, Rene, Sarah and Karlyn, are living the PERSONAL STRUCTURES project. And like us, like our lives, the project develops, keeps ­changing. This exhibition is therefore different from our 2011 Venice Biennale exhibition, and of course, if we would have tried harder or if the situation of the past 3 years would have been different, we might have been able to do ‘better’ or include more artists, but at the moment this is what it is: PERSONAL STRUCTURES at the 55th Venice Biennale, at Palazzo Bembo.