Pieter Vermeersch, 8 Paintings I, 1999, eight oil-on-canvas paintings, each 16 1⁄2 × 13 3⁄4".

Pieter Vermeersch, 8 Paintings I, 1999, eight oil-on-canvas paintings, each 16 1⁄2 × 13 3⁄4".

Pieter Vermeersch


The clearest and most unequivocal feeling that viewers gleaned from this show of Pieter Vermeersch’s work—conceived by the artist specifically for the spaces of M-Museum in Leuven and curated by Eva Wittocx—was one of complete immersion, space after space, in what we might call the essence of painting: thought distilled into color. Vermeersch provided this potent sensory experience in part via the installation of five monumental painted walls, or what he calls “gradient murals.” He achieved the murals’ monochrome fading via innumerable tonal variations—yet the effect felt physically real, as if some organic and photosensitive process were taking place right before one’s eyes.

In fact, many of the artist’s images have a photographic origin. Each component of 8 Paintings I, 1999, for example, takes the same photograph as a point of departure: a detail of a windshield and a windshield wiper. Vermeersch created a new grouping especially for this show, derived from photos of himself, often on the phone. Isolated and transposed pictorially, these banal images become a sort of statement of intent, emblematic of the artist’s desire to conjoin representation and abstraction in an evocative, fleeting—yet physically present—dimension of reality. The pulsation of reality effected here also occurs in Vermeersch’s 2012 photographic works that he marked up with oil paint.

As one moved through the show’s galleries, the chromatic path traced by large murals took on additional dimensions, defining new trajectories of perception and movement amid the museum’s architecture: The route was not simply visual, but spatial and temporal as well. Further architectural manipulations enriched the tactility of this experience: inserts of two mirrors and several nearly freestanding brick walls. The sound piece Spasm, Sonderweg, 2005, also caused sensory immersion, as did Vermeersch’s “scratch paintings,” which the artist makes by scraping part of the painting’s still-damp surface in a single controlled gesture, removing painterly illusion and affirming the work’s here-and-now physicality. Wonderful, extremely refined marble works made between 2014 and 2019 were persuasive. Vermeersch masterfully uses stone as a canvas, activating the material’s latent temporality through a combination of geological and pictorial stratifications. The artist’s deliberately un-museum-like installation of architectural fragments from the institution’s collection proposed a dialogue among different time periods. His combinations of color, space, and time—not to mention his varied supports, which ranged from canvas and marble to photos and architecture itself—yielded a hyperrealistic abstraction that evoked rare physical power.