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#15 Solo exhibition at Pennings Foundation

Solo exhibition of Theo Derksen at Pennings Foundation, September-October 2019

Speaking: Theo Derksen


Theo Derksen (1954) already visited Gallery Pennings when the gallery was still run by Harry Pennings. "Harry had seen photos from my book ‘Ogenblikken’ (Moments, 1993) and was charmed by them. Harry had plans for a presentation of this series at a photo festival. Unfortunately, that never happened. However, ‘Ogenblikken’ was then on show at Het Domein in Sittard. "Theo Derksen always works on projects for a long period of time and then completes them with a photo book and an exhibition. "I worked on the ‘Ogenblikken’ project for ten years."


He studied at the Academy of Art and Design St. Joost in Breda, at the department of photography and audiovisual design. After graduating, he started working as a freelance photojournalist for daily and weekly newspapers. From 1990 he worked for a long time at the Academy of Visual Arts in Maastricht (now Zuyd Hogeschool), first as a teacher, later as coordinator of the photography and audiovisual design department and member of the media design and technology management team. In addition to his assignments, he started to focus on travel photography, but he also started making thematic series and thereby developed in an autonomous direction. He exhibited regularly, in the Netherlands and abroad. "In 1988 I received the Kodak C&I Award, resulting in an exhibition in Houston, together with Carl De Keyzer and Dirk Braeckman."


Theo Derksen always completes a project with an exhibition and a photo book. 'Ogenblikken' was published in 1993

Recently (on September 8, 2019) his large solo exhibition ‘Disneyfication’ was opened at Pennings Foundation. "I worked on this project for twenty years, not continuously, but in between my regular duties." For this project, he traveled through Europe, the Middle East and Asia.


Theo Derksen signaled a striking phenomenon in the streets around the world: making the environment more beautiful by showing wallpapers. Demolition areas, pieces of wasteland, construction pits, ugly residential areas and busy thoroughfares are increasingly being hidden by walls with images of beautiful architecture, beautiful landscapes or with glamour images of actresses and photo models. Ideal images create a fake reality, like a stage in a film set. Theo Derksen therefore speaks of ‘disneyfication’.


Derksen has spent years researching the geographical distribution and various manifestations of the Disneyfication phenomenon in public spaces in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. His conclusion is that geographical location is no longer relevant: the same images are popping up all over the world. Globalization is a fact.


“In 2010 I showed a preview at Galerie Pennings. I had been in contact with the new gallery owner Petra Cardinaal for a while. When I started the project, I already had the term ‘disneyfication’ in mind, but that was not a well-established concept at the time. In the meantime it is, but in 2010 I gave my exhibition the title ‘Topotesia’. That name referred to the dreamed world, the dreamed city. At the exhibition, the photos hung loosely in the room. If there were banners then, I would have opted for that."


It is important that someone walks past before the wallpaper, so that there is interaction between fiction and reality

Derksen did not make use of Photoshop at any time. Derksen has photographed every situation as observed. He zooms in on the wallpapers, but in such a way that you can just see the reality around the pasted photo. It is about the contrast: what is reality, what is fake? With every photo you ask yourself ‘What am I looking at?’