15 february 2020 to 14 february 2021


on view now

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Artists from home and abroad will portray an underwater world in the Fries Museum. Since time immemorial humans have been drawn to the sea and its unique sense of timelessness and connectedness. But although it can be a gentle and colourful muse, the underwater world also has a cold undertow. Its depths harbour drowned refugees and pollution, but also beauty and mysterious creatures. In Other.Worldly more than twenty artists try to fathom the underwater world. The starting point of the exhibition is the work Osedax by artists Edgar Cleijne (Netherlands, 1963) and Ellen Gallagher (United States, 1965). In this key work, exhibited in the Netherlands for the first time, visitors make a hypnotic journey past an oilrig, enchanting sea creatures and swaying plants. The exhibition Other.Worldly can be seen in the Fries Museum in Leeuwarden from 15 February 2020 to 14 February 2021.

toeschouwers bij afbeelding

In her first exhibition for the Fries Museum, curator Hanne Hagenaars has selected works showing the underwater world in all its facets. The artworks in Other.Worldly form a network of relationships that reflect on today’s world. How does man relate to the ocean and how do we deal with its fragile ecosystem? Now that its long-hidden secrets are slowly coming to light, the underwater world itself is in danger. There are works Charles Avery, Paul Beumer, Carina Brandes, Broomberg & Chanarin, Ricardo Brey, Edgar Cleijne, Ellen Gallagher, Dorothy Cross, Elspeth Diederix, Dodi Espinosa, Benedikt Fischer, Matthew Angelo Harrison, Bram De Jonghe, Kinke Kooi, Mire Lee, Erin Jane Nelson, Femmy Otten, Jean Painlevé, Jessica Segall, Studio Glithero, Philip Taaffe, Evelyn Taocheng Wang and Robbert Weide.

man met hoofd in tentoonstelling
vrouw met tegenlicht

bird in hand
Ellen Gallagher’s work Bird in Hand (2006) has come to Friesland from the Tate Modern in London especially for Other.Worldly, and is one of the highlights of the exhibition. It depicts a character inspired by Captain Ahab from the novel Moby Dick. The one-legged protagonist of this gigantic drawing also refers to the enslaved Cape Verdeans who drowned during the crossing to America. Because of the fragility of the work, it can only be viewed until 14 October 2020.

the sea that covers
Even before entering the exhibition, the film Angels of Bureaucracy by artist duo Broomberg & Chanarin’s draws visitors’ attention to the tragic fate of numerous boat refugees. The jaws of a Sicilian grab crush the boats that refugees from North Africa used to cross to Europe. Like a traditional Cantastoria, or ‘singing storyteller’, the grab laments their tragic fate, with the waters of the Mediterranean Sea as a silent backdrop, covering the dead like a cold blanket. The work of Matthew Angelo Harrison (United States, 1989) also connects to this theme in an associative way. His sculptures are reminiscent of the remains of a lost civilisation that has sunk to the bottom of the sea. They appear to be African sculptures, but their true origin remains unclear. Harrison bought them on eBay, where they were sold as generic, trendy home decorations. Harrison modified them with technical patterns from the Ford factory in Detroit, where he worked for a long time. It refers to the loss of cultural identity due to colonial rule and the devastation caused by past events.


Kinke Kooi (Netherlands, 1961) expresses her vision of beauty in Birth of Venus. Instead of a classical Venus rising out of the water, she draws round buttock-like shapes that push aside an abundance of small objects. ‘The water and the earth allow everything in, they are actually very hospitable,’ says Kooi. According to Kooi her work is therefore about receiving, openness and connecting. These are qualities that are also desperately needed when it comes to receiving the flow of refugees. In El Extasis by Dodi Espinosa (Mexico, 1985) a man surrenders himself to diving into the centre of the earth while opening his belly with one hand. For Espinosa, this gesture symbolises the search for a universal, human core. Deep down we are all equal, he says.

Another thread in the exhibition is man’s alienation from his environment. The disrupted relationship between humans and animals is endangering nature, argues Segall (United States, 1978). In the film Uncommon Intimacy she swims with crocodiles and tigers in one of America’s private nature reserves. Her film refers to humankind’s omnipotence and our troubled relationship with nature. ‘Our spiritual relationship with the environment has been exchanged for an industrial one’, says Ricardo Brey (Cuba, 1955). In 2014 he returned to his native Cuba after an absence of twenty years, where he witnessed how Cubans are losing their traditional, emotional bond with nature. Centuries-old trees are no longer seen as a source of wisdom, shade or healing, but are being felled en masse for firewood. This causes erosion, compounding the threat already posed to the island by the rising sea level.

Geboorte van Venus

oceanic feeling
In Osedax by Edgar Cleijne and Ellen Gallagher – a work the Fries Museum intends to acquire – the oceanic feeling plays a recurring role: a feeling of ‘inseparable connection, of belonging to the outside world as a whole’. In Seaspoon Femmy Otten (Netherlands, 1981) seems to capture the longing for the infinity of the sea in the bowl of a spoon. Otten’s seascapes also capture Freud’s ‘oceanic feeling’. The sea and the sky merge imperceptibly in her painted drawings. Sometimes she allows the empty expanses to dominate, other times she adds a flying carpet with tulips.

The exhibition Other.Worldly is made possible in part by Het Nieuwe Stads Stadsweeshuis and the Friends of the Fries Museum. 

The Fries Museum is co-financed by the Abe Bonnema Foundation, the Province of Friesland, the Samenwerkingsverband Noord-Nederland, EZ/Kompas and the BankGiro Lottery.

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