Leuven, Belgium

Philippe Van Snick

M-Museum Leuven

Although providing an overview of Philippe Van Snick’s practice, this survey of the Belgian abstractionist’s oeuvre at the new and remarkable M-Museum was modest, taking up only five rooms. In the first gallery, one found a reconstruction of Dag//Nacht (Day//Night), 1986, an installation composed of one black square and one blue square facing each other on the walls of a narrow corridor, paired with two geometric monoliths made of wood and glass painted the same colors and facing each other in a similar way. The exhibition was not chronologically arranged—the same space contained (0-9) Stoel ([0-9] Chair), 1975, a sculpture whose network of wires under a stool brings to mind a constellation; it also held Territorium (Territory), 1999, a white wooden pillar, and Peau de Chagrin (The Wild Ass’s Skin), 1996, a black painting that appears to depict a landscape. Indifférence orbitale (Orbital Indifference), 1979 (here in the same room), consists of one hundred gouache paintings on paper representing lozenges painted different colors and elongated into various configurations; these complemented three photographs showing the back of a house partially covered by a colorful sheet stretched out like an awning, understood to be the model for the gouaches. The second room, meanwhile, contained a new installation made for the exhibition by Van Snick’s students according to his instructions but in their own style of painting. This work, Sferen (Spheres), 2010, consisted of a series of colored squares arranged evenly around the perimeter of the space, and a bicolored fresco covering the sides of the central freestanding wall.

Similar nonchronological hanging characterized the rest of the exhibition. This mode of installation was more than a display tactic; it went hand in hand with the work itself, which seemed marked by a strange form of inertia, a curious capacity to remain in the same space-time, without being marked by a narrative logic, or one of evolution (that of fashion, for example, or, indeed, of the artist’s development). This resistance to change was manifestly underlined and assumed in the work—it was less the mark of a practice that might happen to seem outdated than that of one enclosed in a peculiar space-time of its own, regulated by the principles of minimal art, barely making reference to other space-times (those of previous eras but also of the artist’s physical existence) according to a logic of confrontation between definitively isolated, opposite poles—poles found as motifs throughout Van Snick’s oeuvre. Among these structural binaries are day and night, a universe envisioned from an earthly and interstellar perspective, painting and its photographic model, the distance between the faraway and the close at hand, the gesture of the artist and that of his assistants.

Because of this logic of isolation, the viewer was distanced from the start. It was impossible to identify with the work, because in its abstraction it resisted all empathy. Leaving the exhibition, the visitor had a choice between two mutually exclusive conclusions. The first was to find a place of serenity in the immutability of Van Snick’s work. The second was to see this very immutability as the symptom of the artist’s deep discomfort with life’s tendency toward constant metamorphosis.

Yoann Van Parys

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.