Rafaël Rozendaal: Colour, Code, Communication

The image shows a colorful structure of squared shapes. The dominating colors are purple, yellow, and turquoise. It is an NFT animation by Rafaëel Rozendaal and Danny Wolfers.
Rafaël Rozendaal in collaboration with Danny Wolfers, Polychrome Music #7, 2022. Code Reinier Feijen, © Rafaël Rozendaal.

Rafaël Rozendaal: Colour, Code, Communication
April 21 – August 20, 2023
Museum Folkwang

This might be so new that we may not grasp it yet.  

The room of about 1000m2 is filled with 81 stacks on which very flat flat screens are mounted. The images on the screens are divided in two parts, showing numerous colour combinations in a ¾ to ¼ relation above-below. 

Wondering: Is this the museum experience of the 21st century? 

The images on the screens are NFTs, the installation’s title 81 Horizons, 2021. For the untrained eye, there is no difference in the viewing experience to a formerly called digital art work – it’s a screen work. Again, wondering: we are living with screens all day, must they also enter the museum, the last truss of peace and reflection (highly romanticizing here)?  

The installation, notably its screen support, is flat; but the works go deep. The visual experience is beautiful, comforting, and irritating. Nothing happens on these screens, no movement, no pop-ups, no demands. It is like a painting on a screen. 

In his Interaction of Color, Josef Albers explores the deceptive qualities of color through practical experiment. In the beginning he constitutes: “In much the same way as haptic sensations deceive us, so optical illusions deceive. They lead us to “see” and “read” other colors than those with which we are confronted physically.”[1] The reference to Josef Albers has been made before, most notably by the Rafaël Rozendaal himself, and it manifests in Homage #12, shown next to Albers’ work in the permanent collection of Museum Folkwang. 

While Homage #12 is an active – moving – and deceiving play of colour, 81 Horizons is not about deception. It is about a medium and its experience, in this case with regards to colour. Rafaël Rozendaal describes the Internet as his canvas, a playground on which to experiment. The exhibition presents it as a laboratory for both the artist and public. Once you remain still in front of a screen, there is something moving. The eyes make something move, or the brain.  Albers advise with regards to schooling the eye for the numerous tricks of colour: “continuing comparison – observation – “thinking in situations” … making the class aware that discovery and invention are the criteria of creativeness.”[2] The exhibition, in this sense, becomes a class room. 

The image shows an radiant structure resembling a flower or abstracted image of an explosion. The structure has a centre with four circumventing levels around. It is the screenshot of a website by Rafaël Rozendaal.
Rafaël Rozendaal, Hybrid Moment .com, 2009. Code Reinier Feijen, Courtesy of the artist and Sammlung Aernoud Bourdrez © Rafaël Rozendaal.

I could stay in this room forever. It is like landscape painting: a sea and a horizon, a field, a beach, a desert, the moon (flattened). As a girl who used to browse the Vogue to choose her favourite accessoires, I set out to choose my favourite colour combination. It is not about beauty here, however. Or rather, the beauty of these images lies not on their surface; perhaps because there is no surface? The image is separated from its support (im-port). 

Thus, very casually, we arrive at the central question: what is – will be – the image in the 21st century? Rafaël Rozendaal is exploring, proposing, and manifesting. It is colour and code, communicated most often via a screen. 

This room is like a private cinema, a cocktail bar, a New Masters’ gallery. One could throw a party in here, a cooking session with Rikrit Tiravania, or a panel on art on screens. If this exhibition shows a way in which screens may be implemented in our daily lives on an artistic level, I’m in. 

The longer I stay, the more I think: maybe this is even advanced. Rafaël Rozendaal creates on a basis of abstraction through reduction. These images are so reduced, with no figuration or reference guiding you, not even a painter’s mark or gesture – you really have to come up with something. The flatness becomes the plane/plain for you to experiment, think, dwell. 

There is the landscape again. Then, it’s egg yolk and vodka, Cynar and absinth, or cognac and Martini (haven’t try that one yet). Or maybe its ice cream: apricot and raspberry, strawberry and vanilla, sweet woodruff and lemon Sorbet. This is fun! Reflectively fun. 

It’s an open labyrinth, or an online article where one word links to another page. Here, one screen links to another idea. And, very casually, I find my favourite colour combination. Can’t picture it though, the camera of my iPhone cannot grasp it yet. 

[1] Josef Albers. Interaction of Color. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1975. 8.
[2] Albers. Interaction of Color. 1975, 9.