16 Dec 2021 – 6 Mar 2022 (Parts I & II)

The Merchant House is pleased to return to the visionary work of the Dutch multimedia artist HILARIUS HOFSTEDE. Part I, A DEMOCRACY OF THOUGHT, debuts his print-media project in a gallery-wide installation of intentionally affordable epic prints. Part II, FOOD FOR THOUGHT, conceived during the most recent Amsterdam lockdown, returns to his prescient works from 2015—a large mural of vinyl-covers and related drawings—on the theme of food. Important to Hofstede’s oeuvre and to Part I, food is a theme he has long been advancing as an urgent subject matter of art, an ever-present human crisis, and a source of solace in the worst of times.

The entire enterprise harks back to the virtuosity of Hofstede’s Paleo Psycho Pop writings and stresses a conflation of perceptual and time horizons, the force of the surreal, and the sense of wonder in our communion with the world.

Hofstede & Marsha Plotnitsky in conversation + Juggler Arthur Herman performs, 13 Feb 2022 / Lecture + opening with Prof. Jean-Michel Rabaté, 16 Dec 2021

Willem van Erven Dorens performs ‘OMICRON’ based on Hofstede’s Pop Killer, 4 Mar 2022

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Dry print on Hahnemühle paper
Edition 1/3
83 x 60 cm, each
(Works continue below Part II)

Not unlike Duchamp who cultivated dust for his mixed-media art, Hofstede has, for some time now, had the foresight to cultivate torn fragments of serious and trashy printed matter. Over the past year, he started to assemble these as mood boards for prints and possible digital works. These “billboards of thought” cohere as illuminating culture/nature tableaus, but it is their surface—rippling (and palpably so in these prints) with Hofstede’s signature jagged image boundaries, lettering, and odd colors—that play up the irrationality, raw meanings, and subversive humor essential to his art.

In the profusion of cut-up imagery, one can find, depending on the work, a great European painting and a food staple set side by side; Polynesian ornaments or animals in nature and in captivity; little Asian girls asleep on the back of a pig; Amy Winehouse (in one of the portraits published just after her death) covered in rose petals like the Roman goddess Cybele; Paleolithic hand-imprints (in focus as some of the first images ever made) and the doll hands of Arman; distorted portraits of Van Gogh, Elon Musk, and of John Calvin among many others; George Clinton and Albert Einstein as universal shamans; images of such food brands as Calvé Peanut Butter or Campbell’s Tomato Soup (with links to both John Calvin and the city of Compton); evocative bits of titles, ads, and quotations; and references to natural disasters and technological feats, to LA gang wars and to wars and cultural events in all their forms.

Hofstede starts with the familiar notions of the interchangeability and exchangeability of everything in our image-mediated lives, with a scathing critique of mass culture. But the surprising relations he ends up with suggest slippages of any rational or linear interpretation. As each work develops, it acquires a particular plastic form and gives rise to a fabulous (and not necessarily dystopic) landscape rich with new meanings, liberating like in a dream.


Part II is anchored in Hofstede’s wall-wide installation of record covers, Food for Thought, part of his monumental series of Pop-Frescos that include Ocean, River, Totem, Reach the Beach, and Abendrot. In this work, the familiar saying “We are what we eat” gives rise to a music-charged statement on our survival in the midst of food crises. The cover of Foo Fighters’ Medium Rare album is a case in point: what’s at stake with a raw piece of meat? And in the center of the mural is the cover of Donna Summer’s She Works Hard for the Money, with the singer dressed as a waitress, ready to take orders from the audience (or pen a social critique).

We are spoiled for choice. There are references to foods, and hence customs, of cultures from across the globe: Japanese, Jewish, Italian, Mexican, American, presented in a mouthwatering cocktail of drinks, desserts, candies, and fruit. Poignantly, the musicians, like Foo Fighters, Chic, Specials, Isaac Hayes, Steely Dan, Squeeze, Wild Cherry, Curve, and Prince, are brought together by the artist to offer a possible response—serious and jocular, as the case may be—to the pervasive artifice of pop (culture and music) in relation to food, how we might think about it, discuss it, share it, and even eat it.

Food as a staple of pop culture served to us on a daily basis (also an important theme for Part I) is taken up differently—in artistic and emotional terms—in the drawings. In The Fresh Arrival of Healthy Pop Art, The Land of Milk and Honey Pops, Kellogg’s Skull Cathedral, and in smaller works, Hofstede’s textural intensity and painterly qualities rival the pop vibrancy of his LPs and prints. But the familiar effect of pop gives way to that which, to quote Hofstede, “communicates the territory of dream.” These works do not merely trace trends but rather foreshadow—and give voice to—urgent themes, as laid out in the remarkable text Hilarius Hofstede, or “Avant moi, le déluge…” by Professor Jean-Michel Rabatè, presented at the opening of Part I.


A prolific and imaginative writer no less than a visual artist, Hofstede will present, during the course of this exhibition, his new polemical book Pop Killer (November Editions, Berlin, 2021), which once again fuses prose and poetry, fiction and autobiography. Pop Killer completes the trilogy with his two earlier books of unconventional narrative, De Markies van Water (Zip Books, San Francisco, 2018—20th Anniversary Edition) and Microsoft Mon Amour (Zip Books, San Francisco, 2017). Hofstede’s museum-wide collaborative interventions have previously been shown at the Musée de la Chasse in Paris, 2012, the Royal Museums of Art and History in Brussels, 2003, and the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, 1999. His seminal works are in many public and private collections, and he is the founder and mastermind of the traveling festival the Bison Caravan.