Jan Dibbets

Museum Fodor

The “Saenredam-Sénanque” exhibition takes half its name from the 12th-century monastery of Sénanque in Provence. The monastery is almost ascetic in its architectonic structure, and its walls are unpainted and bare except for a minimum of sculptural decoration. The other part of the name comes from the 17th-century Dutch painter Pieter Jansz Saenredam, and this is the last in a series of “Saenredam” works expressing Dibbets’ thoughts on that artist. The complex but articulate structure of Saenredam’s paintings is refracted in Dibbets’ explorations of photographic space, his reconstructions of layers of exposures. Where Saenredam grounded each of his works in the strict logic of linear perspective, Dibbets superimposes photographs to rearrange actuality, creating his own adjusted perspectives and panoramas.

Here there are none of the floors and grounds that usually pervade Dibbets’ work, but panoramas of space and ceiling—a glimpse of the heavens from the monastery’s courtyard, for example, or a view of the arched ceiling of the chapter house. Series of photographs in gray or ocher are arranged in semicircles or near-circles and connected by pencil and chalk lines in geometric patterns. The curving of the nave or the interweaving of vault beams is so artfully done that for a moment one feels lost, as if in one of Maurits Escher’s inventions. A better comparison is with Piet Mondrian: “Mondrian exposed everything down to the bare bones, leaving only the essential. In a crude way one could say that I am dressing everything that he undressed,” Dibbets has said in an interview.

The gaunt, stripped monastery of Sénanque is invested with its own esthetic—the esthetic of the sacred. Dibbets too seems to have tapped the radiance of clerestory windows, especially in the lucid center around which a number of these works are organized, to which one is attracted as if to a fantasy chapel of light. So Dibbets shows himself as a metaphysical artist—but could one not already have said that of him in 1969, when he made his first “perspective corrections”? Even then, seeing a triptych of three light-filled windows, I had no ordinary sensation; here I cannot repress the feeling that we are dealing with the divine light of the Middle Ages, das Sendelicht, the transcendental light that is God.

Paul Groot

Translated from the Dutch by Michael Latcham.