Van Stof tot Asse, 2011 / Reflection, Jan Hoet, 2011
I remember Rudi Fuchs saying, on the occasion of the 'Chambres d'Amis' exhibition, that in his opinion painting -whether or not in the form of a canvas hung above the fireplace - is the art form best suited to the private home, as opposed to installations or scenographic presentations. This remark was, of course, meant to be a starting point for debate rather than a critical evaluation of the exhibits shown in 'Chambres d'Amis'.
By now we have all got used to extra muros exhibitions enticing the public to go from one place to another, into environments that have usually been scenographically altered to reposition the spectator, place him right at the middle of the work of art, make him a part of the experience - in contrast with the lateral approach of showing him or her a series of paintings in one and the same building.
The current exhibition, 'Van Stof tot Asse 2011', is an exception to what has become the rule, in the sense that in this case it was decided to seek a well-balanced combination of lateral approach and scenographical solution. Judging by the selection of artists, painting is in fact the significant protagonist in this show, with Walter Swennen, Philippe Vandenberg, Werner Cuvelier, Mario De Brabandere featuring large. Yet the scenographic element is prominently present, and as a result the whole richly varied palette of contemporary expressions is being presented to us today, here, on a surface of about 1 square kilometres, near Brussels Capital, in Asse, where Jan De Smedt has been present for years and years with his gallery De Ziener, making his mark on this country's artistic territory.
In this 'Van Stof tot Asse' exhibition, both theme and participants have a connection with the gallery's activities - either directly or indirectly. It shows the gallery as a laboratory, from which art spreads all over the city, lifting inhabitants and visitors alike out of their daily treadmills and in doing so creating a feeling of communality. Gallery De Ziener (the Seer) sees the artist as someone who can see, a visionary who contributes to the development of society by presenting it with his work of art, hoping to free each member of society from his individual shackles of self interest and self-enrichment. A work of art that reflects on human relationships, that fills the emptiness with new meaning. This can happen in a variety of ways - hence this broad way of expressions. Philippe Vandenberg presents us with a quite pictorially driven, body and soul related orientation of being in the environment. Werner Cuvelier starts from a purely analytic approach of reality and Mario De Brabandere works in a synthetic-constructive manner, creating his pluralist designs with a quietly confident sense of reality. He combines collage and drawing with trinkets found in a monastery in Asse to create an installation in a workshop he has set up in situ. In the garden of the Stas notary house on the grand place next to the town hall, Johan Gelper has set up a scenography that defines space in three dimensions, like a drawing movement. Paul Gees' fragile wooden, stone and metal sculptures are known to us as contradictions, with terms stated in such away as to invite us to study the relation between culture and nature. Here in Asse we encounter his works in several locations. A number of representative works by the recently deceased Raphaël Buedts allow us to contemplate his poetical oeuvre, which focuses reflectively on the fluid delimitation between autonomy and functionality. This exhibition also features work by Erik Nerinckx, winner of the first prize of the 'city of Asse art competition 2011' (for 'One table, two chairs'), who has risen to the occasion by setting up an installation in the aforesaid monastery. In the chapel of the Walfergem monastery, Karel De Meester has achieved an imposing spatial integration in his trusted colour black. In notary dwelling De Markt, Johan Stoefs, who was born in Asse, has created a video-installation centred on his childhood memories and Caroline Van Damme has enabled an interaction with space. Two foreign artists are also exhibited: Egyptian-born Doa Aly, with a video installation about the human being and Frauke Wilken from Germany, who shows drawings and installations featuring sculptural, biomorphic creatures mainly floating in space.
Going on what I know about these artists, yet without having seen the works that have been selected or created for this exhibition, I suppose this selection was motivated by a wish to show a broad and varied amalgam of expressions, aiming for 'beauty' without specifically seeking to show art for the sake of it's provocative qualities. This most certainly does not mean that he art shown at this exhibition lacks meaning or falls short of our aesthetic requirements. Quite to the contrary! This is also gallerist Jan De Smedt's personal choice, and he invariably starts from an intuitive search for equilibrium between feeling and thought. Another character trait of his is his great flair for communication, which is another aspect of his raison d'êitre as a gallerist and the source of the social network he has created in his home town, where art is central. In fact, art is 'the talk of the town', in all manner of interactions and discussions arising from the confrontation of these citizens - and all of us - with these works of art, which incite its citizens - and us all - to question the nature of our existence.
Jan Hoet, Ghent - July 26 th 2011