150 paintings and drawings of Philippe Vandenberg at Hauser & Wirth New York

Beginning 27 June 2017, Hauser & Wirth will present an exhibition devoted to the work of Belgian artist Philippe Vandenberg (1952 – 2009). Curated by Anthony Huberman, director of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art, San Francisco, the exhibition features more than 150 paintings and works on paper completed in the last years of the artist’s life. Unwavering in his willingness to explore even the most extreme dichotomies of human experience, Vandenberg employed a distinctive approach to gesture, color, text, and form. The result is a body of work of raw urgency that provokes a range of complex emotional responses. 

A significant figure in contemporary art in Belgium, Vandenberg rose to international prominence in the 1980s with works that combined personal narratives with literary, art historical, and philosophical references. Teeming with images, symbols, and words that touch upon themes of war, religion, sexuality, and death, his oeuvre includes a staggering range of motifs and techniques; it is filled with haunting narratives, lively abstractions, and cryptic fragments of language. Central to the continual experimentation and stylistic shifts that characterize Vandenberg’s diverse body of work is his self-described ‘kamikaze’ attitude: a firm belief in destruction as the prerequisite for creation.

Unfolding across three gallery floors, the exhibition traces the approaches and images that characterized Vandenberg’s last years. Paintings and drawings made between 2006 and 2009 explore his increasingly obsessive investigations into the tensions between language and abstraction, words and wordlessness. Introducing this theme is ‘No title’ (2009), in which Vandenberg scrawled the words ‘a man says nothing, he paints’ in colored pastel on the surface of the page, asserting the contradiction between the use of language and the limitations of what language can convey. In many of Vandenberg’s later works, words are incorporated as fragments, reading simultaneously as angry declarations and ambiguous incantations. An accomplished draughtsman, the artist relayed these messages with precise yet frenetic line-work that conveys a sense of urgency. 

Often pushing his use of language to an extreme, Vandenberg created hundreds of works on paper saturated with enigmatic words and phrases in French, English, German, and Spanish. In one gallery of the exhibition, a dense grid of drawings becomes a paradoxically resounding and destabilizing force, with simple phrases and words repeating until they become strangely unfamiliar. 

As part of his studio practice, Vandenberg filled hundreds of sketchbooks with drawings of figures and abstract shapes that repeat in varying geometric patterns and give form to an enigmatic personal iconography. 
Philippe Vandenberg 
Hauser & Wirth New York, 69th Street 
27 June 2017 – 28 July 2017 
​Opening: Tuesday 27 June 2017, 6 – 8 pm

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Publication

 The exhibition is accompanied by a new illustrated publication spanning the entirety of Vandenberg’s career and featuring essays by David Anfam and Wouter Davidts; Philippe Vandenberg’s last interview, with Ronny Delrue; and a transcribed discussion on Vandenberg’s work with scholars including Jo Applin (Courtauld Institute of Art, London), Anna Dezeuze (École supérieure d’art et de design Marseille-Méditerranée), Maarten Liefooghe (Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels), Raphäel Pirenne (erg, La Cambre, Brussels), Merel van Tilburg (University of Geneva), and John C. Welchman (University of California, San Diego).

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About the Artist 

Belgian Artist Philippe Vandenberg (1952 – 2009) began his studies in literature and art history before turning to painting and graduating from the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent, Belgium in 1976. 

After several solo and group exhibitions in Europe, Vandenberg exhibited for the first time in New York in 1986, whereupon the Guggenheim Museum acquired one of his paintings for its collection. At the time, Vandenberg was considered one of the most successful Belgian contemporary artists. Several important solo exhibitions followed, including one in 1995 at the Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst in Ghent (now the S.M.A.K.), in 1999 at the MuHKA – Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst in Antwerp, and in 2006 with ‘L’important c’est le Kamikaze: Oeuvre 2000 – 2006’ at the Musée Rimbaud in Charleville-Mézières. The De Pont Museum in Tilburg (2012) and the Maison Rouge in Paris (2014) showed works by the artist in dialogue with the Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere. Recent notable exhibitions include a solo presentation at Drawing Room in London (2016), and ‘Live or Die. Philippe Vandenberg and Bruce Nauman’ at Gallery Sofie Van de Velde in Antwerpen (2017).

 

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