“The Hoerengracht” (1983–8), by American artists Ed and Nancy Kienholz, will transform the Sunley Room into a walk-through evocation of Amsterdam’s red-light district. This highly polemical tableau explores a theme that has been investigated by artists over many centuries and echoes visual traditions well established within European art.
Recalling in particular the Dutch masters of the 17th century, which are strongly represented in the National Gallery, ‘The Hoerengracht’ recreates the brick walls, glowing windows and mysterious doorways of Amsterdam’s claustrophobic streets. At the same time, the half-dressed, garishly lit mannequins of ‘The Hoerengracht’ reveal a theatre of grim sociology, filled with the most vulgar, ugly and ramshackle aspects of society.
Made in their Berlin studio, ‘The Hoerengracht’ was the last major piece made by the Kienholzes before Ed died in 1994. Their work remains a major reference point for contemporary artists such as Mike Kelly, Paul McCarthy, Mike Nelson and Damien Hirst.
The National Gallery produced a behind the scene film on The Hoerengracht:
Get behind the scenes of The Hoerengracht, a walk-through evocation of Amsterdam’s red-light district – and see the National Gallery’s Dutch masters in a new light.