View of “John Cornu and Peter Downsbrough,” 2018. Photo: Gilles Ribero.

View of “John Cornu and Peter Downsbrough,” 2018. Photo: Gilles Ribero.

John Cornu and Peter Downsbrough


If many alternative art venues are tucked away in backyards or basements, attic, as the name suggests, sits at the other end of the spectrum—it occupies the top floor of a building that used to be home to a publishing company. The floor has recently been taken over by several galleries and transformed into one of the Belgian capital’s contemporary art hubs. After entering the imposing edifice and climbing the stairs, the visitor found herself not in a refined white cube but in a kind of garret room, where it quickly became clear that this dual presentation of works by John Cornu and Peter Downsbrough also revolved around questions of time and space.

The walls exhibit the layered traces of the past lives of the room—yellowed paint and perfunctorily spackled holes on one side; remnants of wallpaper with maroon-and-pink floral patterns on the other. The most recent and conspicuous of these strata is a large image of a waterfall in an exotic locale, which has been left in place since attic opened in 2015. For this show, a three-part artwork was installed in front of and adjacent to it: Downsbrough’s HERE: Room Piece, 2018, comprising a vertical aluminum tube hanging from the ceiling, a section of black tape near the bottom of one of attic’s few white walls, and four black steel letters laid out on the floor spelling out the word here, albeit with the r stood on its head, opening up room for interpretation.

The tube, which appeared to float, vertically partitioned the room’s backdrops into compositions that appeared to shift as the visitor moved, while the tape, which functioned as another line drawn in the exhibition space, indicated the passage from Downsbrough’s work to a piece by Cornu. On two pedestals was the latter’s Choses tues (Dead Things), 2014–16: constructivist objects on square bronze bases, throwbacks to another era. These angular clusters of marble bridge the gulf between figurative form and architectural model. Some parts have rounded edges or holes, hints of the function they used to serve—as bases for decorative bronze objects, which the artist melted down and cast into the flat plates on which the marble sculptures are now in turn presented.

Although Downsbrough’s spatial interventions and Cornu’s sculptures might seem to have little in common, the distinctive qualities of attic’s space brought them together. The twists and turns of both artists’ work complemented the visitor’s experience of the room and extended it, as a creative strategy, into the works on view. If Downsbrough’s combination of letters and sculptural lines confronted the viewer with shifting perspectives, Cornu also addressed mutability through his use of materials. Downsbrough’s practice, which blends aspects of drawing, architecture, and concrete poetry, is explicitly site-specific, but this show made it clear to what extent Cornu’s sculpture, too, exists in dialogue with its surroundings. At attic, the work of both artists appeared as richly layered as the walls of the space in which it was shown, here and now and far beyond.

Translated from German by Gerrit Jackson.