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

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