Critics’ Picks

Honoré d’O, Kalebas (Gourd), 2020, apple, bottle stopper.

Honoré d’O, Kalebas (Gourd), 2020, apple, bottle stopper.

Ghent

Honoré d’O

Saint James’s Church
Bij Sint-Jacobs
May 30–October 31, 2020

The Belgian Conceptual artist Honoré d’O spent the first few months of the coronavirus lockdown in a twelfth-century Romanesque church in Ghent, where, through multiple interrelated interventions inspired by the furniture and historical artworks collected there over the past eight centuries, he eventually created a single large installation. His works, sited throughout the church and its radiating chapels, borrow symbolism from Jan van Eyck, whose famous altarpiece graces the city’s Saint Bavo’s Cathedral.

Tafel van Eyck (Van Eyck Table, all works 2020) is a mimetic reproduction of two shipping pallets in a material that has almost no strength: polystyrene. Placed on a board set atop a pile of church chairs in the nave to form a makeshift table, the piece humorously evokes the glorification of the “helping hands” that keep society running; it simultaneously suggests, however, the shrines carried in bygone religious processions to protect against future misfortune. Kalebas (Gourd), a fake apple to which d’O added a rubber bottle stopper, humorously conjures that sudden and universal preoccupation with “good health” that emerged as soon as the virus arrived. It is the apple a day that keeps the doctor away. But this salve also looks like a grenade. It represents the threat of nature—with its pin removed, it has the capacity to kill at random.

The exhibition continues in this subtle, humorous, poetic, and allusive mode. What comes into view is an extraordinary meditation on suffering, death, fate, solidarity, and the nature of the kinds of information relied upon in periods of widespread doubt. These themes are universal and timeless—as the church and its contents attest—and are only amplified by d’O’s work.