Ruth Van Beek: The Great Blue Mountain Range

Sometimes we come upon an exhibition that reminds us that there are intersections between different kinds of collections. One might think that the worlds of paleontology, mineralogy and art are separate but a recent exhibition of works by the Dutch artist Ruth Van Beek at Okay Mountain Gallery in Austin shows us otherwise.

Included in the exhibition are a series of paintings, photographs and collages that use the crystalline abstract structures of rocks and minerals to create visual relationships between seemingly disparate forms. The title of the exhibition, The Great Blue Mountain Range, in relation to these small studies of stones, alludes to yet another comparison of difference – scale.

In two vitrines, painted bright yellow, this method is continued using found photographs alluding to the landscape photography of guidebooks and amateur naturalist snapshots. As the press release states, these works are “symbolic of the artist’s longing to travel to other places.” As a result, Van Beek uses collage to combine the two poles of this longing, here and there, creating new interstitial places that are her own.

An explorer’s longing to approach the unknown, the use of a control group in scientific method, and the formalist use of relational color or tone are all based on  comparisons. Following this, a slide show is included in the show projecting images that Van Beek has gathered from various sources including gold nuggets, baseball sized hail, ice crystals, diamonds, and meteors to create an almost rhizomatic network of associations that are at once visual, scientific and vaguely metaphysical.

This kind of alchemy, transforming images of mere matter into the stuff of speculation reveals the gallery to be a cabinet of curiosity. The artist here serves as both maker and curator, always aware that appropriation and the archive are creative sites themselves.

Ruth van Beek (1977) lives and works in Koog aan de Zaan, The Netherlands. She graduated in 2002 at Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam receiving a Masters in Photography. In 2008 she had a solo exhibition at Foam-3h, the Amsterdam Photography museum, In 2009 she did research at the Spaarnestad Photoarchives, resulting in new work and a solo exhibition at Galerie37 Spaarnestad in Harlem, this exhibition was also shown at the Use me Abuse me show at the New York Photofestival, curated by Erik Kessels. Her work regularly appears in various books and magazines.