Leon Vranken

Stella Lohaus Gallery

One of the chief qualities of “The Traveling Riddle,” an excellent exhibition by the young Belgian sculptor Leon Vranken, was its sense of tempo. Of course, like a performance in the theater or on film, an exhibition always has a conventional temporal structure, with the installation of the work followed by an opening, then the show itself, followed by a deinstallation. But over the course of this process, who could really attest to a key moment, a precise duration, a model, a format, a definitive distribution of roles? One wanders through an exhibition at liberty, viewing the works in any order whatsoever and for as much or as little time as one cares to spend. The only constant is this expectation of freedom. And it is on precisely this uncertainty that Vranken based “The Traveling Riddle.”

Visitors to the exhibition faced a narrow wooden hallway at the space’s entrance. At the end of this hall, an apparently fixed wall seemed to bring the visit to an abrupt end just as one thought it was beginning. Nevertheless, a metal plate in the center of the wall suggested that one might push it or move it. Which, of course, the curious visitor was sure to do. This was the secret door through which one entered the exhibition space—and it appeared to be empty at first glance. But then one discovered that all the objects in the room were piled behind the door. These were carefully made wooden objects, resembling either small minimalist sculptures or design objects: trestles, a sphere, a chair, a beam, a skittle pin. All these things were arranged on an iron rail, and the visitor moved them by pushing the door and the counterweight it provided. With the same movement, he or she also set in motion a paint roller freshly covered in green paint, located at the end of the chain.

With this installation, titled, like the show, The Traveling Riddle, 2009, Vranken offered a multifaceted experience. On one hand, the work expressed a rereading of minimalist sculpture and theatricality, here interpreted in a playful, cheerful manner—both in terms of the spectator’s physical experience and the materials and forms involved. It also presented a critical position with regard to the system of art, its materialism, and the expectations it cultivates. And all this was subtly articulated in the Duchampian fashion that asks the viewer to complete the work. But above all, it was a piece that remarkably developed the forms and the principle of trompe l’oeil (the kind that craftsmen of yesteryear—with whom Vranken seemed to show an affinity—would develop for decorative frescoes and marquetry). For the genre in this case was considered not only in its spatial dimensions but also in its temporal ones: Vranken’s trompe l’oeil creates an illusion within the conventions and expectations of the experience of an exhibition, and once we have discovered the deception, we must reconsider art’s unfolding in time.

Yoann Van Parys

Translated from French by Molly Stevens.