In 1986, the Dutch-born Manders began working on a major artistic project titled "Self-Portrait as a Building." Ever since, he has used and reused materials and tools that are part of his everyday life and turned them into components of what is, essentially, a lifelong conceptual self-portrait. The idea came to him when he took the writing instruments on his desk and created a fictional floor plan out of them. Early works incorporated pencils, cups, magic markers, pieces of rope and other personal items.
Manders has recently produced two huge sculptures in green patinated bronze for the sculpture garden at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, offering his contemporary interpretation of older sculptural traditions. The patinated bronze “Composition with Long Verticals” at Donum is from the same edition (of three) of the sculpture made for the Walker. The dream-like head trapped in or emerging from the vertical forms seems like an archaeological treasure stood on its head, and provokes questions about what lies buried beneath familiar structures.
"I try to write with objects," he explains. "First, I started as a writer and I wanted to write about a building, but this building was like a self-portrait, with different rooms and different characters living in these rooms. My plan was to write about this building for the rest of my life. Then, after a while, I started making three-dimensional rooms. It's really like a frozen theater without something happening."
"For me, it's really interesting to create meaning with everyday objects," Manders adds. "As an artist, you can use everything that exists, in a way – like all the words that exist, all the artworks that already exist."
Works that Manders has created in the past three decades have titles such as "Colored Room with Black and White Scene" (1998–99), "Continuous Living Room Scene" (2007–08), and "Figure with Book and Fake Dictionaries" (2009).
The exhibition for which Manders is best known is "Room with Broken Sentence," which he exhibited in the Dutch Pavilion at the 2013 Venice Biennale. Almost all of the works he exhibited there are now in the collections of major museums. "Working Table," for example, is now owned by MoMA in New York.