Critics’ Picks

Jacqueline Mesmaeker, Versailles après sa destruction (Versailles After Its Destruction), 2018, adhesive lettering on mirror, 25 x 16".


Jacqueline Mesmaeker

La Verrière-Hermès
Boulevard de Waterloo 50
February 1–March 30

Jacqueline Mesmaeker’s exhibition works well in the back room of Hermès’s Brussels outpost, not only because of the Belgian artist’s beginnings as a stylist but also because the venue offers her an opportunity to engage the French imaginary as well as the fashion house itself. Mesmaeker has drawn on this imaginary elsewhere (in relation to writers such as Valery Larbaud, Denis Diderot, and François-René de Chateaubriand), and La Verrière is, of course, filled with an air of luxury—something else the artist scrutinizes as she suffuses the space with her characteristic mischief. In a gold frame at the gallery’s center hangs a photograph of a plowed field, captioned Versailles avant sa construction (Versailles Before Its Construction), 1980. Nearby is Bourses de ceinture (Belt Purses), 2018, a glass case containing small, empty velvet and silk coin purses; Poire pétrifiée (Pear Petrified), a fossilized pear given the date ca. 1850; and Secret Outlines, Le château de Fontainebleau, 1998, a booklet on which the artist has drawn obsolete views of Versailles. The mystique of the title of the latter work is matched by a rusty mirror with lettering, Versailles après sa destruction (Versailles After Its Destruction), 2018.

This show displays all facets of work by an artist who is finally taking the place she deserves in Belgian art history, alongside Marcel Broodthaers and Joëlle Tuerlinckx. Bringing imperial symbols such as eagles and Versailles down to an intimate scale, Mesmaeker undercuts their gilded, delicately sophisticated authority with tender prankiness. For a final touch, titled Introductions Roses, 1995–2019, Mesmaeker has installed a length of elegant pink twill across the room’s walls. The gesture proves both a subtle act of sabotage and, per the title, a quietly generous introduction—much like the exhibition overall.