W. Rossen at Wschód – Artforum International

In his first solo exhibition since his graduation from the Frankfurt Städelschule last year, the Amsterdam-based painter W. Rossen presents five new works. While compact, the show is rich with art historical references. “Ostend,” the exhibition’s title, can be taken to allude both to the name of the area in Frankfurt where he lived and to the hometown of one of his inspirations, James Ensor. Also namechecked in the show is Åsgårdstrand, a Norwegian city depicted by Edvard Munch in 1902. For Åsgårdstrand (all works 2022), Rossen copied the latter picture, adding two important twists: He rendered the background elements as white reliefs, so that one can only recognize the objects by the shadows they cast, and he erased Munch’s human figures, instead populating the foreground with gnomic, inanimate objects, such as a movie camera with odd levers.

This latter choice is crucial given the economy of the exhibition; Rossen seems to be sending the message that people are not all that important, at least not in his paintings. When human figures do appear, they are portrayed as dolls—subject to carving, in the case of Handen, Kamer, or hung from the ceiling, in that of Trianon—or they are overshadowed by technology (see the towering camera that occludes one character’s face in After Engewormer). Recalling Duchamp’s Coffee Mill in their mysterious interior workings, eerie presences, and symbolic heft, Rossen’s mechanical implements are the real protagonists of his paintings. The most riveting among them is the broken yet functional wheel, a quote from a seventeenth-century Jan van Goyen painting, Landscape with an Oak, that features in both Rossen’s Engewormer and Åsgårdstrand.

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