Guillaume Bijl

Galerie Wewerka

Guillaume Bijl is best known for his site-specific installations such as the one he did in the room of a patient in a psychiatric institution. These installations remain true to the details and function of the places where they are most frequently shown—museums and galleries. Bijl disrupts preconceived notions of what an exhibition should be, annexes spaces, and attacks their function with his simulated spaces. His work raises the question of what is reality and what is fiction.

In his most recent show, Bijl showed four recent works, including an elephant skull in a vitrine filled with a gray material and meant to replicate a museum exhibition. Another work, part of his ongoing series “Compositions Trouvées” (Found compositions), imitates an exhibition space in a poster shop. Seven framed posters, photographs, and reproductions are combined into a grand tableau for commercial not esthetic reasons. In pointing to the ways in which art institutions such as natural history museums or gift shops make use of art objects for their own purposes, he forces the viewer to examine institutional norms.

This installation also included assemblages that function more as surrealistic objects than as real objects. A found, large-format, black and white photograph depicts a serious missionary flanked by African masks and a drum. Here, Bijl points to the colonialism of Christianity in its degradation of the cult objects of other cultures to trophies and souvenirs. This work makes concrete reference to Belgium’s aggressive colonial policy, and Bijl places himself in the Belgian post-Surrealist tradition typified by the works of Marcel Broodthaers. In the end, however, Bijl’s work establishes a degree of compatibility with the contemporary art marker that partially undercuts his putatively subversive position.

Peter Funken

Translated from the German by Charles Miller.