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Near Focus #1

Jimmie Durham

Solo exhibition

3 – 28 June 2020
Vleeshal (Map)

Curator: Julia Mullié

Near Focus #1 | Jimmie Durham

Near Focus

Convinced that 'looking back' and 'seeing again' can help sharpen our vision of the future, Vleeshal showed works from its unique collection during the summer of 2020. Vleeshal has a long-standing partnership with the Antwerp museum M HKA, where Vleeshal’s collection is conserved and displayed. With Near Focus we reflected on this collaboration with exhibitions by Jimmie Durham, Lili Dujourie and Pipilotti Rist. The works came from both our own collection and that of M HKA, and the exhibitions each engaged with the history and current programme of Vleeshal in their own way.

Over time, the meaning of artworks constantly changes, partly because the context in which they find themselves varies as well. Works that you have already seen before can unfold new meanings and encourage personal reflection. The title of this exhibition series, Near Focus, refers to the discovery of the Galilean Telescope in 1608, the predecessor of the telescope and binoculars we know today. It was invented by Hans Lipperhey in Middelburg. The Galilean Telescope had a worldwide impact because it made it possible to study things in detail that were previously invisible.

The term ‘near focus’ indicates the minimum distance at which an optical aid (such as binoculars) can be in focus. This is an especially important quality for nature enthusiasts who want to get as close to their object of study as possible. In order to reduce the distance to the works of art and stimulate reflection, Vleeshal invited different people to reflect on the works in Near Focus from various perspectives.

Jimmie Durham

For Jimmie Durham art is a social phenomenon: different interpretations should always be possible and it should encourage dialogue. His activities as a poet and activist are entwined with his artistic practice, which includes both verbal and material wit. Through the use of language and the combination of all kinds of organic and artificial materials, Durham questions prevailing views. Referring to stories and images from different cultures, Durham’s work unveils the complexity of how identities, histories and relationships are formed.

In the 1970s, Durham was involved in the American Indian Movement and devoted himself to the rights of Native Americans. Durham problematises the dominance of Western culture. He does so, for example, through the concept of ‘authenticity’, which can only be used by someone who dominates others. By equating culture and nature, Durham shows that both merge into each other and at the same time maintain a delicate balance.

Materials are used by Durham with apparent ease, while they are very specific: after all, all materials are culturally formed. The social, geographical and economic history of a material is intertwined with social structures.

Works in the Vleeshal collection


In the context of the collection exhibitions Near Focus Vleeshal offered different perspectives through which the artworks can be viewed. All perspectives were commissioned and printed in the exhibition booklet.

The Center of the World, entitled The Center of the World (The Direction of my Thought) - Direct from my New Home in Eurasia

Jimmie Durham


Jimmie Durham wrote this poem during his stay in Middelburg in 1995 when he was working on his exhibition The Center of the World. It was published in the exhibition’s catalogue.


This one wants to be there

Kees Wijker


  • This one wants to be there | Kees Wijker

In addition to his work as an artist, Kees Wijker has been working at Vleeshal since 1995 and as head of technique he has worked with many artists. Jimmie Durham taught him in 1995 that materials also have a will of their own, independent of living beings. For Near Focus Wijker wrote this text.

Voor de Vleeshal, Middelburg

Kasper Bosmans


Voor de Vleeshal, Middelburg | Kasper Bosmans

For Near Focus #1 Kasper Bosmans made a drawing as a reflection on the work of Jimmie Durham. Bosmans has been fascinated with the work of Durham since he encountered Himmelfahrt at M HKA in his teens.

Bosmans’ work was shown at Vleeshal in 2021 as part of the group exhibition I Think I Look More Like The Chrysler Building and was donated to the Vleeshal collection by the artist.


From time to time Vleeshal invites guest curators to organize exhibitions in the Vleeshal or to develop other projects. By doing so, we aim to welcome new perspectives and contribute to talent development.

Vleeshal is a unique center for contemporary art, not only because of its atypical exhibition space and exciting programming, but also because it has a collection. In the 1990s, under the impetus of then director Lex ter Braak, an ambitious collection of contemporary visual art was begun. This collection was intended for a newly envisioned museum in Middelburg, designed by Aldo and Hannie van Eyck. In 1995 it became clear that, unfortunately, there was insufficient political support for this museum. The impetus of collection building had therefore lost its possible context and visibility and encumbered Vleeshal. The collection had become a storage cost and management issue.

In 2005, the collection was given on a long-term loan to M HKA in Antwerp. M HKA was chosen because of the close historical ties between Middelburg and Antwerp, the museum's collection profile, and the fact that M HKA's director, Bart De Baere, was a member of the committee that purchased artworks for the yet-to-be-built museum in Middelburg in the 1990s.

The collection consists of two parts. One part includes national and local art from the BKR arrangement (the Dutch abbreviation BKR stands for Beeldende Kunstenaars Regeling, an arrangement, which from 1949 to 1987 provided artists with a temporary income in exchange for works of art or other artistic quid pro quo). The other part consists of artworks by international contemporary artists (including Jimmie Durham, Nedko Solakov, Suchan Kinoshita, Cameron Jamie, Pipilotti Rist, and Job Koelewijn).

There has been no active acquisition policy for years. The collection is expanded here and there with sporadic purchases and donations from artists who are part of the Vleeshal program.

Vleeshal would like to thank M HKA for making Near Focus: Jimmie Durham possible.

    This project was made possible by the generous support of the Mondriaan Fund, and the municipality of Middelburg.