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WIELS Contemporary Art Centre opens Walter Swennen: So Far So Good

WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels presents Walter Swennen: So Far So Good an exhibition on view 5 October 2013–26 January 2014.

Walter Swennen, Super blaue Reiter, 1998. Oil on canvas. Collection Mu.ZEE, Oostende. Photo: AD-Art.
Walter Swennen, Super blaue Reiter, 1998. Oil on canvas. Collection Mu.ZEE, Oostende. Photo: AD-Art.
WIELS’ major survey is devoted to Walter Swennen (b. 1946, Brussels), one of the most uncompromising and experimental painters working today. Just like others in his generation he approaches and explores the medium anew by applying principles from other disciplines. After his earliest activities as a poet in the 1960s, and in the aftermath of the visually reductive conceptual art and fundamental painting, Swennen decided in the 1980s to examine the poetical possibilities of painting. The oeuvre he then rapidly developed was explicitly not characterised by the spontaneous or heroic visual language of his neo-expressionist contemporaries, but rather distinguishes itself through a deconstructivist underplaying of the prevailing codes of painting. In retrospect it is clear that Swennen is, ever since his shift from writing to painting, engaged in a steady reconnaissance of the specific problems of painting, with a preference for subtle forms of rebellion, deviation and relativising of authorship and originality: such as the marginal, the nonsensical, the understatement, the anti-climax and the tragicomical. Swennen comments on the aftermath of the ‘death of painting’ through a humorous interaction between pictorial practice and poetical communication. Whoever looks beyond the seemingly naïve and amateurish execution of his work discovers sources of inspiration as varied as comic strips, world literature and philosophy, bilingual dictionaries, advertisements, and (his) children’s drawings. Given that painting is in essence mute, Swennen demands at least as much attention to the complex material background (which remains unknowable) as to the familiar figure in the foreground.

The exhibition So Far So Good combines a careful selection of his paintings from the early 1980s until now, as well as a selection of drawings and works on unconventional supports. It is the most comprehensive presentation of his work ever, as it consists of over 130 works loaned from 75 public and private collections in Europe. The focus of the exhibition is placed upon Swennen’s decades-long, relentless pictorial experiments and research into language, signs and motifs, and painting techniques and supports. Rather than a classic chronological organisation, the installation follows the artist’s associative and improvisational working method in order to reveal two modernist questions which have spurred Swennen on over the past three decades, however much his answers may have varied over that period: What to paint? And how?

The exhibition is organised by WIELS Brussel-Bruxelles, in collaboration with Culturgest Lisbon. With the generous support of BNP Paribas Fortis and Galerie Nadja Vilenne, Liège.

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