Amsterdam: Under the Red Light
The National Gallery
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Red light re-gentrification was issue of the day for our ‘Where did the Love go?’ feature in this months sex issue – and, perhaps unsurprisingly, it has garnered rather a lot of outside interest.
So, in a bid to investigate further, we thought we’d up sticks and head to Amsterdam on a red light reconnaissance mission.
A trade hub for the past 400 years, Amsterdam has long attracted those looking for a quick fix at the end of a long trip – whether a 45-minute flight can still be counted is open to debate – but these days, things in the ‘Dam are really beginning to change.
Our first point of call was the home of 60-something ex-prostitute turned photographer Metje Blaak. Draping herself seductively over an expansive white bed, Blaak paints a positively bucolic picture of a life in the game, placing herself on a par with the local butcher or baker - providing ‘social sex’ for the community.
Fully legalised back in 2007, the Amsterdam City Council - under the guise of the 1012 regeneration project - are now wielding full control over the sex industry. Planning to ’dismantle the criminal infrastructure’ and, in their own words, return a ’chic and shady’ sense of balance to the community, brothels are closing left, right and centre.
With plans for a Las Ramblas style red carpet from Central Station into the Red Light District featuring ‘a Harrods of Amsterdam’, the city has called in creative consultants HTNK to commission up-and coming Dutch fashion designers to fill the ever-emptying windows before squatters set in.
There is certainly some interesting stuff on show. With black, red and aquamarine 3D-print tunic dresses from ...andbeyond, and avant-garde masks, dolls and out-there streetwear from the omni-pierced Bas Kosters - there is talent a-plenty. Though the prostitutes tend not to agree, as Metje reveals in her husky, filed-off tones - ’the girls don’t like the mannequins, they make them feel self-conscious’
Artists are also getting a look-in with the Red Light Art scheme. Producing less in-your-face window displays, the artists live, breathe and work in the ex-brothels – Dutch/French artist Laurence Aegerter for instance, has transformed her space into everything from a temporary Turkish snack-bar to a golf club during her year long tenure.
Despite all this, the artists and fashion designers on board are only too aware of their tentative position within the government machine. In reality, their residencies are mere stopping points en route to the brothel-that-was, being transformed into a prime piece of real estate.
Even considering the range of creative input being pumped into the area, prostitution remains a pivotal part of Amsterdam’s culture, and you can’t help but wonder whether the creativity would be better spent elsewhere – working alongside the sex industry, rather than in place of it.
That said, streets lined with seedy British stag haunts and spaced-out skunk dives could certainly do with an injection of a few good bars, clubs and restaurants, which are surprisingly lacking.
In another artistic turn, London’s National Gallery will be getting in on the action this autumn, bringing over a key piece of Red Light art for a show in November. The Hoerengracht (whores canal) by American artists, Ed and Nancy Kienholz, is an expansive, walk-in tableau depicting Amsterdam’s Red Light District in the 80’s.
A gruesome theater of dim lights, raw squalor and buyable bodies, the show will open on the 18th of November this year, so watch this space for more nearer the time.