Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Finding Form and Sense in Freek Wambacq's exhibit, currently at M in Leuven

by Michelle Nott

To walk into the town of Leuven is to expect towering carved men to look down onto you from the town hall. Yet, if you keep walking beyond the cathedral, you will eventually come upon M, the museum of Leuven. A transformed city school, the building's now modern lines marry with the old structure seamlessly.
The inner walls display a visual history of the town of Leuven: its people, its families in everyday labor and bourgeois life. The higher floors allow space for temporary exhibits. Currently, modern design artist, Freek Wambacq, is the Belgian of choice until May 15, 2011.
Be sure to pick up the pamphlet at the top of the stairs before entering gallery 28. These sheets give the name of each work of art which adds just as much to its composition as does its colors and shapes.
The first work of art Wambacq throws out, or rather sprays out, covers the back wall. As the eye's first contact with the exhibit, the black splotch looks like an over-sized example of splatter painting. In fact, this technique is referred to as the “piss effect”. The photograph propped up on the floor to the right explains Lester Taking the piss out of Hammons. In reference to Pissed Off, a performance by David Hammons, the artist Gabriel Lester pretends to urinate in the corner of a gallery in Cork, Ireland. Right away, the visitor questions what is art and how it displays itself.
To the left of the entrance into this first gallery is Ideen muss man haben (One must have ideas). An art manual lies on its side propped up on a shallow metal shelf. Just opposite stands a wooden support for a stone block, popular among sculptors. The manual specifies to turn “this page sideways or upside down for ideas and inspiration.” What stuck with me, however, are the following words, “One thing sure – Nature can never combine colors or designs that are not attractive.” This quotes adds to the necessary mindset to delve into Wambacq's objects, organic and man made.
Dimensions du XXe siècle 1900-1945,” a hardcover book as well as the title of this particular piece, stands on the floor to the right beside which is a piece of tropical wood. The cover picture is a modern form which shadows the curves of the weathered piece of root. Immediately, the visitor understands from where our appreciation for lines and curves come. Obvious, and yet looking at a photo of the Milky Way next to Jackson Pollock's No. 4 appears as a revelation.
Gallery 29 is a hallway connecting 28 to 30, but do not overlook it. Maybe Wambaq expected the visitor to do just that. The artist's work plays with our senses, or maybe even our sense of senses. Braille-Malevich is a frame of pages from Malevich's Suprematist Composition; White on White written in braille. Even if Malevich's words are colorful to the mind, placing them in braille behind the glass of a golden frame transforms them into a simple monochrome image.
In the final gallery are two rectangular work tables. The first is an army green surface. On which lies a stack of yellow workman's gloves, a scattering of halved coconut shells and a crumpled mass of plastic. The ideas this combination provokes may vary eye to eye. What is attractive is his choice of colors and how well they compliment each other. Citing the title of the work, however, explains everything. Twelve bird, five horses, and a small fire refers to the sounds the objects make – the flapping of gloves, the click-clock of the shells, the crumpling of the plastic.
Another perfect color combination lies on the next work table whose red surface is the background to sprinkled white salt and a stalk of green celery. Salt provokes thirst. Celery is mainly made of water. Salt falling on paper sounds like rain drops...Imagine for yourself a possible reason behind its title, Rain showers and a broken leg.
Playful images as displayed in Freek Wambacq's current exhibit are nothing new to the artist. In Exercise In Seeing, Queens' Nails Projects (2009) in San Francisco, he participated in an exhibit displayed entirely in the dark. Excluding vision, all other senses were forced to take over. He requires visitors to now add to their sense of vision thoughts of smell, touch, taste and sound. Depending on the work, the effect may be disturbing or calming or just plain fun.

Vanderkelenstraat, 28
3000 Leuven
32 (0) 16 27 29 29
For more information on the artist, refer to Freek Wambacq's website at www.freekwambacq.net/biography.php

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

At the Home of Victor Horta

I entered Horta's home through the large wooden door. The flowing woodwork was like a wave in. On the left is the coatroom, but not the one we visitors of this century use. The coat rack is of brilliant design, one solid piece to hold coats, hats, and a mirror to check yourself before coming and going. The design is, of course, typical Art Nouveau. The hooks blend in as well as the screws.
I wondered what it would be like, in fact, to be a guest of Victor Horta in his own home. I followed the designated path the little guidebook indicates to all visitors of the Horta Museum. I looked at every detail, of every lamp, door frame, window frame, from the marble entry steps to the carpeted stairs and hardwood floors leading all the way to the glassed ceiling of the top floor. I looked out the windows to his garden from the dining room, to the street from the sitting room of his office. I even admired the silver contraption that heated his water directly into the bathtub. This was Horta's house. The house is decorated and functions according to his daily routine and envies (which explains the urinal built into the wall on his side of the bed).
I imagined turn-of-the-century Brussels. There were new technologies and nouveaux riches. The new century was a time when people were decidedly Catholic or Freemason (designated on the houses with a cross or a triangle), when subsequent conflicts rose between the liberals and the socialists. All together, there was the “tried and true” thinking and innovative ideas. I imagined what it must have been like to wake up as a guest, from America, in this remarkable townhouse located at 25 rue Américaine.
The guest room sits on the top floor. A morning Belgian light sneaks in under the curtains on either side of a mirror. Exquisite, deep woodwork frames the windows and the looking glass as one entity. The space is not enormous but cozy. Shallow balconies protected by wrought iron vines tempt me to look out, to look down on the street where I always ever only looked up. Turning around, I see a woman' s writing desk facing the wall to my right. I pass on an occasion to write down my impressions. My eyes haven't had enough. The beige, almost golden, detail in the upholstery brings a warmth the sun only pretends to.
My feet immediately meet the staircase leading to Simon Horta's bedroom. But before I continue, the glass ceiling and wall, their golden secrets, hold my attention. Then, I advance without taking one step. What could have been a very closed-in stairwell, is an extraordinarily open and lit area. Looking over the banister, I imagine seeing my host walking out of his bedroom a couple floors down and across the hall toward his office. Lamps that could be mistaken for glass calla lilies point in all directions from their intertwined metal stems. Two shapeless, yet full of form, mirrors face each other. I notice one is next to me only because I see the infinite reflection across from me, yet not quite close enough to actually catch me. I realize that the space and the design so unique to Horta can go on and on.
Victor Horta thinks of every liveable, functional space in his home. As I am daydreaming, more visitors have come and gone out of the guest room. And yet, I have not heard one, “Pardon” or “Sorry” for the simple reason that I am not in the way. A landing the width of my two feet and a bit is just outside the guestroom door, just next to the stairs. I had stepped aside to get a better look at the reflections of the lamps and the branching iron against the golden, floral-painted walls. I had been swept away into this mystical, metallic garden without noticing.
In fact, the rest of the house spirals down from this idea, from Horta's perception of light, form, reflection and color. Brief steps pass in between landings leading to the bedrooms, the family room, the sitting room, the music room and into the dining room and its sitting area overlooking the garden. From golden to pastel green-blue painted walls, floral patterns overtake the scenery as a guest proceeds down to join her hosts. The detail of the wooden door frames, hinges and knobs remind the admirer of the organic nature of the setting. The fact that the heaters ware hidden behind matching curtains or mirrors emphasizes Horta's notion of displaying only what will enhance the surroundings.
The light fixtures down the staircase and in most rooms are variations of the same lily design pointing in different corners of a given area. Once in the dining room, the chandelier above the table honors dinner guests through pink and green-shaded glass. If only I could pull out one of the American ash chairs and sit facing the warm fireplace surrounded by shelves, receive a nice hot plate of a Brussels' specialty while admiring the bas-relief by Pierre Braecke...If only I could sit on the couch still in its original position and admire the garden without thinking of the time hanging over me... The architect designed the wall clock himself.
Early in his career, Victor Horta knew it was time for a new architectural philosophy. He made sure his name was on it.

For more information on Horta and his style,  refer to Victor Horta and his Art Nouveau.

Musée Horta
25, rue Américaine
1060 Saint-Gilles
02/ 543. 04. 90
Open every afternoon but Monday from 2-5:30.
Bookstore open during the same hours.