Biography

Dutch artist Hellen van Meene is best known for her carefully staged portraits of adolescent girls, revealing the psychological tension and ambiguity of this transitional stage of life. Through her particular use of form and natural light, it is clear to see the influence of her Dutch predecessors, such as Johannes Vermeer.

Although based in reality, van Meene’s portraits have a distinctly detached and otherworldly quality to them. Her subjects often appear immersed in their own thoughts, their gaze fixed upon something out of the frame, or their eyes closed. The artist aims to produce a slowing down effect with her photographs, as she captures the moment between girlhood and womanhood, which is gone all too quickly. This timeless quality extends to the photographs themselves, which appear both contemporary and entirely from another era.

For a recent series, van Meene enhanced this feeling of temporal and physical detachment by moving her portraits into the realm of fantasy. Figures without faces, sheaths of hair concealing their identity, and girls hovering above the ground confront the viewer, leaving the method and intent behind each portrait deliberately ambiguous. 

Born in Alkmaar, The Netherlands, in 1972, Hellen van Meene lives and works in Heiloo, The Netherlands. She was the 2016 recipient of the Royal Photographic Society Honorary Fellowship, awarded to distinguished people in the areas of the fine art of photography and science.

Van Meene’s work has been exhibited internationally, including at Guggenheim Museum, New York; Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam; Folkwang Museum, Essen; Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago; The Photographer’s Gallery, London; Whitechapel Gallery, London; Huis Marseille, Amsterdam; Istanbul Museum of Modern Art; Brooklyn Museum, New York; and The Art Institute of Chicago. Van Meene’s work is held in the collections of major museums worldwide including the Guggenheim Museum, New York; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Victoria & Albert Museum, London; Art Institute of Chicago; Brooklyn Museum, New York; MoCA Los Angeles; and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Van Meene is the subject of five artist monographs, including Hellen van Meene: The Years Shall Run Like Rabbits (Aperture, 2015); Hellen van Meene: Japan Series (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago and De Hallen, Haarlem, the Netherlands, 2002); Hellen van Meene: Portraits (Aperture, 2004); Hellen van Meene: New Work (Schirmer/Mosel, 2006); and Hellen van Meene: tout va disparaître (Schirmer/Mosel, 2009).

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