Joost Swarte’s Grocery Lists

Last month a group of friends and I visited the splendid Joost Swarte Everywhere exhibition in the Kunsthal gallery in Rotterdam. It provided a quite complete overview of Swarte’s oeuvre, paying special attention to his “off-the-page” projects, like buildings, stained glass windows, crockery or figurines, but also many draft versions of his contributions to the New Yorker, early publications, etc. We hadn’t planned to spend two hours there, but we did. You get the idea.

One of the more endearing exhibits showed the little illustrations Swarte did over the years on his shopping lists. Aside of a love of fish, they also show the subtle humour that his more famous illustrations do. And the weird visual-analytical way his mind works. How else can you explain the fact that on July 24, 1999, he adds the numbers of the date, only to discover that the sum, 130, rather resembles the first letters of “Boodschappen”, the Dutch word for “groceries”?

Even in the tiniest and most mundane of ephemera, Swarte shows himself as one of the ultimate greats. If you happen to be in Rotterdam, be sure to visit the exhibition – it’s on until the 19th of January.

(apologies for the quality of the pictures – it’s pretty hard to photograph rather dimly lit paper in a glass case)

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