Freek Wambacq

This recent exhibition by the young Belgian artist Freek Wambacq brought together work produced since 2000, including eight pieces from 2008. The exhibition filled two distinct spaces at the Netwerk art center, in two separate wings of the building—an architectural division that the artist subtly took into account.

The first space contained only two pieces, a surprising choice considering the great size of the room. One was a very large clay pot, Le Vase-entrepôt (Vase-Storehouse), 2008, which rose from the floor nearly to the ceiling. Meanwhile, in the back of the gallery, one could distinguish a modest, framed photograph—Frahan, 2008—hanging on the wall: The image depicts an ordinary man mowing his lawn near a hedge of trees. In this first gallery, everything was a question of contrast, of proportion, and above all of the relationship between inner and outer worlds, both in the psychological and the sociological sense. One could not help but wonder what this giant vessel was meant to contain. What from a psychological standpoint could be considered a mocking illustration of the relation between manifest and latent or conscious and unconscious could also be seen as a kind of bait for those with a weakness for pursuing the interpretation of the artwork. As for the sociological dimension, it lay in the relationship that Wambacq, through these two works, seemed to establish between the world of art and the world at large. It was indeed rather amusing to see a simple piece of pottery aggrandized in the immaculate context of this exhibition space—where the utility of the object and the inutility of the work of art were casually contrasted.

Moreover, the absurd character of these two works and their mise-en-scène attested to the elegance with which the artist positioned himself vis-à-vis his artistic heritage, the heritage of Surrealism in this case. In particular, one was reminded of La Chambre d’écoute (The Listening Room), 1952, Magritte’s wonderful painting of a room filled by a giant apple.

In the second gallery—a room far away from the first and which functioned as a kind of echo of it—one found mostly older works mixed in with new pieces. Some sculptures were arranged on worktables along the walls; beneath these tables were packing crates for the sculptures—the “raw” materials, one could say—waiting to be “converted” into works of art themselves. In fact, in each of the artist’s pieces and its carefully chosen materials, one could detect a delicate interplay of references between the objects’ use value and symbolic value. For example, Hubcap Column I, 2006, was a kind of “endless column” in the manner of Brancusi, made from—yes—hubcaps. Record Cover (Pizza Box), 2004, was just that, a pizza box transformed into an album cover. There were even delicate engravings cut into real apples (Gravures sur pomme [Gibellina Nuova], 2007). From start to finish, there was no shortage of material and psychological surprises in this rich and mature exhibition.

Yoann Van Parys

Translated from French by Molly Stevens.