The thinking behind bringing Bob Van Persie to Manchester for his first show in the UK was presumably motivated by little more than the fact that his son Robin is presently this City’s most celebrated adopted son, after Manchester United’s number 20 unarguably singlehandedly thrust them their 20th League title. This connection is exploited further still tonight as revealed by the restrictions on this private view, tightened to the extent that every VIP invitee is admitted under a couple of strict conditions:
“1. No photography,
2. Don’t ask Robin Van Persie for his autograph.”
What press for this event, as well as the national pieces I’ve read bewilderingly omit, is that this City’s most famous export was an artist best known for painting landscapes of the surrounding areas teeming with distinctive, yet similar people.
Tonight’s crowd is somewhat more diverse than your average exhibition opening; while their attendees might go to great pains to customise their appearance, this being the cultural quarter they’re invariably all the same strain of individuality. There’s the obligatory hipster, hijacking a power outlet for his iPhone, but the event is a decidedly family affair – without wishing to stereotype more than I already have, there are some thunderingly Dutch looking people.
Item: Vader Fantastisch, who presumably thought clogs and a tulip in the lapel would be a touch too subtle. Elsewhere Bob’s daughters flank the Prodigal (at £250,000 a week, he can afford to be) Son, making for a handsome family. Ironically, the International Soccer Star and monthly millionaire is the most down-to-earth seeming of the lot. Autograph hunting may be out, but no one said anything about trying to engage him in conversation, at least certainly not to the host of Taunton’s Tone.Fm Jazz Show, Tony Soley (not a national treasure – he’s wearing his own promotional T-Shirt), who cries out to Robin for a minute of his time, only to be met with an outstretched palm of refusal, and a quick exit.
The unassuming gentleman in the centre of everything is Bob Van Persie, whose work is categorised as sculpture; but is such in a manner almost unthinkable for the medium, each piece is something of a self-contained landscape, for the most part made-up entirely of people. These homogenous throngs are constructed in a cookie cutter fashion, little more than basic paper dolls stuffed for substance, head created by a simple twist to create a neck, coated in Paverpol and varnish for posterity. Nevertheless, there’s an abundant conceptual undertow to what appears to be, superficially, a one-trick Pony show – the idea of the repetition, and disposable nature of paper adds a surface layer of substance consistent throughout the work, while the varying types of paper add deeper, individual dimensions to singular pieces and the exhibition as a whole.
Many instances of Van Persie’s work on display are playful, ‘Wimbledon People’ lean to one side in unison, the ‘A Sparkling Moment’ series, obviously inspired by capacity-packed stadiums, depict figures assembled from footballing magazines while LED flashbulbs blink intermittently. Other ‘Untitled’ pieces are made from food packaging (‘2013081′), or Chinese literature (‘2013011′), the latter of which indicates a greater forethought at work. ‘Telephone People’ has undulating hills of figures made from phone books, multiplying the scope and validity of persistence in Van Persie’s obsession further still. ‘London People’, another piece using a telephone directory, takes the manifold narratives further still by seemingly painting a interesting picture on the rich multicultural diversity of the city – as a painstaking examination of the text in an attempt to identify it’s origin reveals very few identifiably Anglo Saxon style surnames, but familiar post codes. ‘New York People’ features some Arabic sounding names, amid the newsprint that appears to focus heavily on U.S. foreign policy, while ‘Hadj People’ deviates from the uniformity of previous pieces as its center forms a tributary of people trickling toward a common interest, while a few figures deviate, dotted off to either side. Fittingly, the exhibition deviates only briefly from this repetition, but when it does, it’s an allusion and concession to the illustrious son – in the form of a solitary football bearing an intricate design.
In the national press, Bob Van Persie bemoaned the probing pertaining to his footballer son, but against the rules set out by his muse, there are those that stand out among the crowd. Manchester United’s MVP might command adoration on the field at the ‘Theatre of Dreams’, but tonight he’s just a son trying to help out his Dad. And in the autopsy of the event the devil’s in the detail – There are plenty of exceptional specimens that make up the crowd tonight.
Chester Whelks is a peripheral figure on the fringes of existence. Predominantly bothering the local music scene of his native Manchester, England, he has a very finely attuned Justice-button, and knows how to call a spade a ‘Multi-Purpose Murder/Concealment Device’.