MORE MASTERPIECES OF JAN FABRE
Apparently, Jan Fabre cannot get enough of himself. He had himself cast in bronze in sculptures like 'The man who gives fire' (1999), 'The man who measures the clouds' (1998) and 'Searching for Utopia ' (2003). After a brief intermezzo, in which he deemed the Belgian astronaut Dirk Frimout worthy of a bronze sculpture on top of the Kursaal in Ostend 'Man directing the sea', 2006), he continues to have himself cast in bronze - or in wax - in one ridiculous hollow theatrical pose after another.
Take 'I let myself drain', (2006) a life-sized wax figure, not unworthy of a place in Madame Tussauds, banging his head against the painting 'Portrait of a Magistrate' by Rogier van der Weyden with blood dripping from his nose and pooling on the floor. It would testify to some self-knowledge, were it not for the imposture of deeming himself so important as to let the whole world know that he is simply not able to equal the old masters. On occasion of the installation of this masterpiece in the Museum in Antwerp in ('Homo Faber', 2007), Michael Savage writes: 'The sheer, unfounded arrogance of putting some one of Fabre's meagre talents alongside these giants is unforgivable; allowing him to obscure them is criminal'. Besides: see also Kristof Kintera; Revolution (2005).
Another very interesting pose is that of 'The man writing on water' (2006), the artist sitting in a suit in the second of a series of seven polished bronze bathtubs, attempting to write on the surface of the water with his finger. It is a remake of 'Hé, wat een plezierige zotheid' (1988), seven bathtubs in bic blue, each one with an owl in Murano glass. The new version is in more solid bronze (versions with beetles are equally available). The owls are replaced with a self-portrait. The idea refers to a poem of the nineteenth-century Flemish poet Guido Gezelle “Het schrijverke”, in which a water dragonfly writes God’s name on the water, to Jean-Louis David's 'Death of Marat' ,.and also to the habit of the artist to work in a bathtub. The seven basins are said to refer to the seven days of the week. It is Tuesday, hence: Martis dies, the day of Mars. In terms of the seven planets of the solar system, however, Jan Fabre is orbiting around the sun as Venus. No doubt a reference to a metamorphosis like the one in ‘Quando L'Uomo principale è una donna’ (2004). Things are totally different when we look at the installation from the other side. Then, Jan Fabre is sitting in the sixth basin. To Christians, the sixt day, Saturday, is the day on which God, whose name Jan Fabre as the water dragon-flie from Gezelle's poem is writing on the water, created man. In this context, the finger, with which Jan Fabre is writing God's name on the water, cannot but remind us of that other finger, with which Michelangelo has God create Adam is his famous fresco 'The creation of Adam'. Another reference that lays bare another twofold metamorphosis: that of God into a creation after the image and the likeness of Fabre The Creator. Still other interpretations come into view when we follow Isabelle de Baets*, who holds that the basins can also be conceived as tombs (think of Marat!). A multi-layered work, no doubt! According to the catalogue to 'Anthropology of the planet', the 'sculpture', is "a gesture of impossibility, but a metaphor for the metamorphosis of creating". The masterpiece is supposed to 'express a will to strive towards the absolute and eternity'. According to Isabelle de Baets* it is a 'metaphor for the artist as a mediator between the material and immaterial, spiritual world'. Of course, countless other interpretations possible.... Besides, these interpretations would also apply when Jan Fabre had been sitting there in person, in real water, in a real bathtub. Wherewith the irrelevance of this sculpture as a sculpture is amply demonstrated.
Jan Fabre cannot get enough of riding either. After mounting a bronze tortoise in Searching for Utopia ' (2003) he is now steering his brains in 'The artist trying to tame his own brain' (2007) in a somewhat cheaper version in wax. Apparently, the artist thinks big of the brains that nevertheless produced such a poor sculpture...
With 'I spit on my tomb' (2007) we find ourselves not so much in Madame Tussauds, as rather in a horror cabinet. The artist, dressed in that trendy raincoat of his, is hanging on the ceiling. Jan Fabre already handled the theme - referring to a real episode when his father cut the rope - in 'Dependens' (1979-2003), where the body and the coat are covered with thumbnails and nails and in his Selfportrait (1999) 'Jan Emiel Constant Fabre, the servant of art hanging on a tree'. In this version, Jan Fabre is cast in wax and he wears a real raincoat. From his ceiling, the artist is spitting on a field of toppled black marble gravestones of granite on which the names of insects are engraved with the date of birth and death of artists (such as Proust, Schönberg, Kandinsky, Thierry De Cordier and Panamarenko) , philosophers (Foucault), musicians writers, scientists, etc.. According to Jan Fabre, the work alludes to Caspar David Friedrich's “The Arctic Sea” (1824), which for Fabre represents death fields and “The Wanderer Overlooking the Sea of Fog” (1818).The title is borrowed from Boris Vian's 'J'irai cracher sur vos tombes'. Apparently, the artist cannot refrain from degrade the masters that he is unable to equal - his deceased twin brother? - into insects. I dare hope this contempt is only the corollary of the self-depreciation that makes him hang himself and spit on his own grave....The installation has been recycled for 'The Angel of Metamorphosis' in the Louvre (2008) as 'Selfprotrait as the biggest earthworm'.
Despite all these exercises in clumsiness, bad taste, cheap philosophy and outdated artist mythology, Jan Fabre is - at least in the press releases - widely praised as 'one of the most fascinating artists in Belgium and on the international scene'. This is definitely not our opinion. We cannot continue to repeat ourselves. That is why we refer to the links above for a more detailed analysis.
© Stefan Beyst, June 2007 'Jan Fabre: De bronzen' Wever & Berg, 2007)
After 'Heaven of Delight', Jan Fabre decorated another ceiling, this time not with beetles, but with feathers: 'The night of Diana' or ''Le Cabinet Rubens-Fabre' - in the Paris 'Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature'. Whereas 'Heaven of delight' was a purely decorative work, 'The Night of Diana' attempts to be figurative: a central face of an owl is surrounded by four other faces with human eyes. Whereas 'Heaven of Delight' has its merits as a purely decorative work, 'The night of Diana' lays bare all the shortcomings of Jan Fabre as an artist. It suffices to compare his poor performance with the incomparable vaults of the Hagia Sofia. The incorporation of a Rubens in such a clumsy construction is a sheer insult.
With the two lambs of 'Sanguis sum' (2001), Jan Fabre initiates his golden period. The installation consists of a pair of gold-plated lambs with party hats, one standing and the other dead. It is typical for our age where the 'concept' has completely replaced the image - at least in the realm of the plastic arts - that the French philosopher Michel Onfray* manages to write a substantial text about this work without even one word about the sculptures as such: despite the gold, they are not precisely masterpieces of animal sculpting. When Jan Fabre would have used two real lambs, the text would apply as well: or rather, equally be besides the question. According to Michel Onfray, 'Sanguis sum' is a direct reference to the Van Eyck brothers’ 'Adoration of the Mystic Lamb'. Why? Not every lamb, even with the title 'Sanguis sum', refers to 'Adoration of the mystic Lamb'. Jan Fabre points to the fact that there are two lambs, just like there are two brothers van Eyck. But there are more brothers than the Van Eycks: apart from Jan Fabre and his dead twin brother, there are also the Marx Brothers, who have certainly also something to do with party hats. Even when we admit that the lambs refer to the Van Eyck Brothers or to the Mystic Lamb, how do we have to understand the master's comment that we are dealing with a metaphor for the artist? Michel Onfray gives free rain to his philosophical imagination: Jan Fabre's cogito would be 'I bleed, therefore I am', which does certainly not apply to Jesus, after all the real lamb. At the end of his comment, Michel Onfray concludes: 'Jan Fabre brings an allegory of the death of art through reversing the situation.... Art is death, but, by saying this, the artist shows how alive it is....' Well....
From 2006 onwards, Jan Fabre begins to work with stuffed animals. 'Carnival for the dead street dogs“ (2006) is an installation with six stuffed dogs amidst confetti and streamers. 'The messengers of death decapitated' (2006) was intended for 'Homo Faber' in Antwerp (2007), where it was exhibited in front of Frans Floris' 'Fall of the rebel Angels',features five (for 'The Angel of Metamorphosis in the Louvre 2008: five) owls' heads placed on a church cloth. Why seven? The altar and the cloth could suggest that we are dealing with the Seven sacraments. But why then are there only five left in the Louvre? We are told that Jan Fabre wants to overcome the finiteness of our existence by decapitating the messengers of death. And that, 'in the Flemish tradition, these nocturnal birds are associated with madness as well as wisdom'. Does that mean that Fabre also wants to eliminate madness and wisdom? However that may be, this installation is surely the bearer of an immensely interesting content. Fortunately enough:as pure 'sculptures', they would certainly not catch the attention of the public on the exhibition of some local hobby club or craft fayre Fortunately also that Jan Fabre was so kind to provide us with the explanatory title and some comments: the stuffed heads show no trace of decapitation, and they surely do not look dead: they are looking at us with open human eyes. Animals with human eyes: Fabre's eternal theme of metamorphosis....
© Stefan Beyst, June 2007; * 'Jan Fabre: De bronzen' (Uitgeverij Wever & Berg, 2007).
From the Cellar to the Attic / From the Feet to the Brain
Most conspicuous in this exhibition at the Kunsthaus Brengenz is 'In the trenches of the brain as an artist-Lilliputian' 'In den Schützengräben des Gehirns' (2008)'. In a landscape furrowed with trenches, a giant skinned human head emerges. Jan Fabre, as a Lilliputian on top of it, is digging in it with a shovel. This is not so much sculpture, let alone a 'sculptural tableau', as rather a frozen scene from the theatre, where Jan Fabre feels better at home. No doubt, the artist has the intention to convey us some very important message - ein 'Denkmodell'. But, as usual, we are left in uncertainty about the meaning. Is the artist digging trenches in the battlefield of the brain? And, if yes, to what purpose? Why is the head skinned? Who are the warrying parties? Shall we not rather consider this' tableau mort" as a 'mysterious' surrealistic scene in the 'good old Belgian tradition'? As far as I am concerned: pseudo philosophy packed as pseudo art....
© Stefan Beyst, October 2008.