Koenraad Dedobbeleer

Galerie Micheline Szwajcer

Last December, Belgian artist Koenraad Dedobbeleer received the Mies van der Rohe Stipendium 2009, awarded by the city of Krefeld, Germany. It grants the artist the opportunity to occupy the studio in Haus Esters, the celebrated design by Mies, and to ultimately develop a project for the building, which, with its domestically sized and spatially ingenious interior, is widely considered a superb exhibition space. It certainly befits the work of Dedobbeleer. In the past decade, the artist has made sculptures and installations with a wide range of familiar objects and everyday domestic materials, such as furniture, clothes hangers, tubes, and piping. Dedobbeleer freely manipulates, transforms, and reconfigures these into poetic assemblages and surprising compositions. While the works have been meticulously constructed, they nevertheless cultivate a certain clumsiness; despite the works’ precise positioning in space, they seem to spread out in a casual fashion. If “Deflationary Exercise,” the artist’s second solo show at Galerie Micheline Szwajcer, continues this approach, the fourteen new works, all made in 2008, nevertheless mark a decisive change. In contrast to his previous work, Dedobbeleer has not opted for a total colonization of the gallery space by means of dispersed installations, but for a succinct positioning of a set of diverse, self-contained objects.

At first glance, the objects don’t have much in common, except that they are all rather small and low to the floor. Earthy Paradise of Matter consists of a cloud-shaped MDF panel that is propped against the wall by an irregular conical assemblage of thin metal bars, while a set of tiny plastic balls makes the plate seem to float off the wall. The shape of the cloud is brutally cut off at the right side, as if the sculpture had to give way to the door opening that leads to the room behind. If this work, along with the mobile Retreats Have the Value of a Shell, is still marked by the loose spatial distribution and gauche materiality of Dedobbeleer earlier work, the other sculptures in the show are remarkably restrained and compact. Memories Are Motionless, one of the most intriguing pieces of the show, is a low tubular volume from which a slice has been vertically cut. Clad in gleaming pink Formica, it uneasily rubs one side against the gallery wall. A pipelike aperture vertically punctures the volume, reinforcing the association with domestic fixtures, albeit in an oblique manner. Passing Hour That We Recognize Its Benefits reads, in a Brancusian fashion, as both sculpture and pedestal—yet due to its shiny Formica finish in a terrazzo-like print, it is a somewhat mundane variant.

Dedobbeleer playfully and critically explores the contemporary status and nature of the sculptural object—which, in the wake of Minimalism, remains forever haunted by Clement Greenberg’s prejudicial yet prophetic statement that the latter was little more than “good design.” Since our everyday environments are increasingly engulfed by well-designed objects, it has become all the more uncertain whether sculpture can, or should, still make a difference. Whatever the case may be, Dedobbeleer subtly suggests, it always benefits from an exercise in self-deflation.

Wouter Davidts