Philippe Vandenburg, Aimer c'est flageller I | Zu lieben heißt zu geißeln I | To Love is to Flagellate I, 1981–1998.
The Hamburger Kunsthalle is showing the most extensive retrospective to date of the work of Belgian artist Philippe Vandenberg (1952–2009), comprising some 80 paintings and over 120 drawings and prints. This is the first show devoted to Vandenberg in Germany, inviting visitors to discover an important artist who may be unfamiliar to them. Highly acclaimed in his home country of Belgium, Vandenberg produced a radical and unsparing œuvre that is just now achieving greater international prominence. The title of the exhibition, Kamikaze, describes the artist’s drastic working methods and results, a basic precept of which is that creativity is only possible through the deliberate destruction of what has gone before. Going beyond any single artistic “style”, Vandenberg created complex images of our times which resonate with both contemporary pertinence and existential significance. The majority of the works on loan came from the artist’s estate and are now being presented to the public for the first time.
On view is a highly diverse and multifaceted body of paintings and works on paper: early figurative depictions are supplanted by Expressionist renderings, monochromatic pictures and abstract geometric overpaintings follow on the heels of graffiti-like pieces. In his final years, Vandenberg engaged with words and sentence fragments in his images. Literature and art history, myths and legends as well as current world events find expression in his art. Recurring signs and symbols (circle, cross, Swastika, dog, lion and bear) inhabit his works. They tell of the dark side of humanity, of hatred and violence, coldness and persecution, but also of interpersonal intimacy and participation. Vandenberg’s art displays a compelling intensity that has the power to both disturb and excite, to stir and goad its viewers – while giving them ample food for thought.
(© The Estate of Philippe Vandenberg / Courtesy Hauser & Wirth.)