Jan Hoet (1936–2014)

Marina Abramović, The Urgent Dance, 1996. Performance view, Museum of Contemporary Art, Ghent, 1996.

PEOPLE LIKE JAN HOET do not exist anymore. Jan belonged to a rare art tribe with a unique, intuitive vision that opened new territories and horizons.

I met Jan just before he curated the legendary 1986 exhibition “Chambres d’Amis.” We became instant friends. His energy and flamboyant approach to everything he did spoke to me immediately.

For my fiftieth birthday, he invited me to do a large exhibition in Ghent, Belgium. I told him that for the occasion, I would like to create an evening of Argentinean tango. Jan was full of enthusiasm about this. We titled the event “The Urgent Dance” and put some very strict rules in place for the night.

The 450 people invited to attend the event had six months’ notice to learn basic steps of Argentinean tango. The dress code was tuxedos and brilliantine hair pomade for men. In case they forgot, a large pot of hair pomade was to be located right at the hall entrance. Women were asked to dress in evening gowns of any color except for red. We even invited an Argentinean tango orchestra to play.

As the date of the event approached, I told Jan that I would love to have a cake. He got mad, saying that it was so bourgeois of me to ask for a birthday cake. Furthermore, he told me that we spent the whole budget for the evening and nothing was left for the cake. The truth was that Jan was secretly conspiring behind my back. He gave a photograph of my naked body to the best pastry chef in Belgium, who made a life-size replica out of marzipan, even reproducing (in chocolate) scars that are scattered around my body from my performance career.

Exactly ten minutes before midnight on the night of the event, the museum doors opened, interrupting the dancing. Six beautiful topless men carried the body cake in on a large stretcher. Immediately afterward, six fully dressed women carried Jan in on a stretcher, exactly the same way as my cake. He was completely naked except for a small bow tie. He was offering his body as a present to me. Some of the guests from the US, mainly curators and collectors, were sure that Jan’s body was made out of wax. It was not conceivable for them to see the director of a museum completely naked.

I will remember that evening for the rest of my life. What I admired the most about Jan was that he never played by the rules. I loved him immensely and I would have done anything for him, as an artist and a friend.

Marina Abramović is an artist based in New York.

More reflections on Jan Hoet will appear in the Summer issue of Artforum.