Jan van Munster
Brainwave, 2007, neon with argon (blue), 390 cm long
The light sculpture or more specifically neon sculpture Brainwave (2007) of the Dutch sculptor and installation and light artist Jan Nicolaas van Munster (°1939, Gorinchen, The Netherlands) certifies the interest of the artist in the theme 'energy'. In 1996 van Munster saw in a medical TV-show how an EEG or electroencephalogram was made of the brain activity of a woman. This inspired the artist. Electroencephalography is a form of brain research and a method to register the difference in potential energy between two points that arose in the brain through the scalp. "Suddenly I saw lines on the TV-screen, something that occupied me. Only it looked much better. I immediately asked my doctor if he could make me such an EEG. In the hospital of Vlaardingen they did some tests and made an EEG of my brain activity. I had to hyperventilate and they shined a stroboscopic light into my eyes," thus the artist.
With this technical produced graphical images the artist gets to work: out of the composed waving patterns of lines that form the output of this personal EEG, van Munster takes small parts and inverts them into neon sculptures. The blue Brainwave (2007) that is part of the collection Hugo Voeten was created as such. The wavy neon line is an enlarged detail of his EEG-registration. Van Munster creates invariably new compositions. His Brainwaves therefore exist in various versions, measurements and colors. "It is something highly personal. In fact you get the same effect as when you hang a Rembrandt or a Karel Appel. These paintings are also a piece of the artist," thus van Munster. This artwork, that at first sight may seem rather 'simplistic' and abstract, represents hence something very concrete. The light sculpture is an image of the artist himself and his personal energy field, feelings and thoughts. Van Munster's motto sounds: "Eventually it must be possible to tell my whole story with one single (pencil) line". This Brainwave consists of argon gas in a neon lamp. Argon glows with a blue shine, neon gas on the other hand gleams red.
As well as in terms of content or theme as in terms of form or material, van Munster's artistic oeuvre handles with 'energy'. In his early works van Munster associates energy with biology. He created more organic images with materials such as wood, stone, bronze, glass and iron and suggestive titles like Growth, Genesis, Embryo and Fruit. His recent, more minimalistic and geometric works, with materials such as a.o. mercury, granite, ice, filaments, are entitled more neutral and objective, for example Round triangle, Ice table, Plus minus or Energy field. The artist thus started with references to fertility as the source of life and developed a broader approach to the concept 'energy', interpreted as a universal primal force as the foundation of all phenomena. Van Munster's work became more distinct, moderate, crystallized and conceptual, with the goal of reaching the essence in mind.
To visualize energy Jan van Munster works with elements that invoke tension and contrast: light and dark, warmth and cold, visibility and invisibility, positive and negative, plus and minus, attraction and repulsion. He wants to reveal essentially invisible energies into something perceptible and tangible. Therefore he creates 'energy situations', that arise through tension. As a kind of summary of all forms of tension, starting from 1984 van Munster frequently used the +/- sign as an artistic formula.
The use of light also got more and more important in van Munster's work. "Light is not only about the visual impression, but particularly about the energetic charge that is invisible," stated van Munster in 1977. Furthermore he refers to the idea that light is of great importance for biologic life and that it directly affects the animal and human organism. Light influences for example in a psychological way the human wellbeing, but also processes of growth, and a.o. plants live from photosynthesis or the transformation of light into glucose.
Some artists that are seen as the pioneers of light art are Dan Flavin (1933-1996, USA), Joseph Kosuth (°1945, USA) and Bruce Nauman (°1941, USA). By positioning fluorescent lamps with an aesthetic purpose in a space, Flavin represents the appearance and the effect of light as a theme. The neon installations of Kosuth and Nauman rather correspond with the strong conceptual aspect of Jan van Munster's art, whereby not the light itself as a phenomenon is emphasized, but other topics and concepts.
In 1995 van Munster achieved his ultimate +/- in the form of a pavilion in his former residence Renesse: he set up the Foundation Plus Minus, that realized until 2003 a series of exhibitions in the Plus Minus building. In 2005 van Munster moved to Oost-Souburg (in the Dutch Vlissingen), where he established his 'IK-island' (translated 'ME-island') and the 'Foundation IK' around the water tower of 1939, designed by architect J.H.J. Kording. The six floors of the tower are used for different purposes and on top of the tower van Munster created his studio. His house is inspired by the water barrel that is still part of the tower and functions as exhibition space. Notable are the 'IK-pavilions', two buildings in the form of the letters 'I' and 'K', arranged as a living- and working space for artists who are invited to work temporary on the island. The separate buildings on this green hill form together one coherent work of art. The IK-island and the Foundation want to be a laboratory and a stage for innovation, production and presentation of visual fine arts. In 2011 a collaboration with the Mondriaan Fonds was set up.
Jan van Munster studied from 1955 until 1960 at the Academy of Fine Arts and Technical Sciences in Rotterdam and at the Instituut voor Kunstnijverheidsonderwijs in Amsterdam. From 1968 until 1977 he taught at the Haarlemse Ateliers '63 and starting from 1974 also at the Art Academy of Rotterdam. Between 1978 and 1990 he held classes at the Royal Academy for Art and Design in 's-Hertogenbosch.
From August 6 until September 11, 2016 key works of Jan van Munster from 1968 until now will be on view in Samuel Vanhoegaerden gallery in Knokke, Belgium. For more information about Jan van Munster and Foundation IK: http://janvanmunster.nl/ en http://www.stichtingik.nl/.
Text: Sarah Gallasz