Axel van der Kraan, Soldaten II, 1986

Fallen knight

Van der Kraan does not have a very optimistic view of humanity and civilisation. He is fascinated by power and bureaucracy and the absurdity of routines and rules that sometimes seem to oppress people rather than help them. The artist sees the world as an “undirected, absurd and pointless battleground”. Thus, for Van der Kraan, the warrior is more symbolic of a tragic figure rather than a hero. He refers to the imagery of a fallen knight. When not towering high and invincible on his horse, he is nothing more than a heap of scrap on the ground, helpless in his armour. The warrior can inspire fear, but can also be a grotesque or ridiculous ‘quixotic’ figure.

Everyday objects

Van der Kraan's sculptures are ingenious in terms of their construction and the use of materials. In his work, we see the freedom typical of installations created in the late 1960s and early 1970s. For example, in the works of artist Marinus Boezem (Leerdam, 1934) or in the ground-breaking exhibition Sonsbeek buiten de perken (1971). In Van der Kraan's case, this manifests itself in the joy of handicraft. He creates new recognizable images from discarded household appliances and machines. For instance, a dustbin becomes the body of a soldier and a sink becomes the turret of a tank. 'My aim was to allow visual art to intervene in the world of everyday objects.’

Axel van der Kraan, Tank, II, 1989

Iron works

Initially, Van der Kraan made his sculptures mostly out of wood, but after 1985 they are composed largely of metal. These so-called ‘iron works’ are often simplified figurative sculptures. Moreover, the artist plays with scale. Sometimes the dimensions correspond to that of a scale model, while other times the sculptures are larger than life-size. All the works in the exhibition were created after 1985.

Unmasking power

The 'iron works' represent our own vulnerable world, threatened by wars and the abuse of power. Nevertheless, the works also have a lighter tone due to their construction, the irony and astonishment with which Van der Kraan views power. This makes his sculptures bearable. On the one hand, his work exposes human behaviour and makes us understand that we are mere pawns on the world stage. And on the other hand, we realize that the unmasking of power can give us the strength to offer resistance.

Images: Axel van der Kraan, The Gallery (detail), 1989 / Soldiers II, 1986 / Tank, II, 1989. Photo: Marjon Gemmeke