Brussels Gallery Beat: Jan Fabre’s Marble Brains and More Major Shows This Month

From Jan Fabre's marble brains to David Adamo's diminutive radiators.

Brent Wadden, "The Decline" installation view. Photo: © Sven Laurent Courtesy Almine Rech Gallery.

Brent Wadden, “The Decline,” Almine Rech, closes May 24.
Where most young artists who see sudden success have a tendency to stick to what got them attention in the first place (if not downgrade due to productivity pressure), Wadden has taken bounds forward with each of his most-prominent showings: First at Berlin’s Peres Projects and now at Almine Rech. Wadden’s central themes endure in these latest additions to his Alignment series: an interest in indigenous art-making in his home province of Nova Scotia, a heavy dose of punk culture, and a drop of the psychedelic. But what started as many meter-lengths of knitted, black and white triangles and rhombuses, and were subsequently stitched together and placed on stretcher bars have, in Rechs’ Brussels space, morphed into around 20 weavings in his favored neutral tones as well as salmons, deep and robin’s egg blues, yellow, and kelly green.

An affinity for Abstract Expressionism emerges in these latest works. The Rothko-esque shade-shifts are striking. The forms within the weavings have become looser, less strictly geometric, and more contemplative. As Wadden has perfected his laborious weaving process, the surface of the works has become more uniform, making it easier for viewers’ eyes to be tricked into thinking that they’re looking at oil paintings. If they were, however, they wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. The play at work here is one of balancing associations with brawny abstraction and with emotionally charged handcraft, though this is not your grandma’s knitting. The works look effortless and thoughtless—and, indeed, an element of automatic drawing comes about in the seams between colors—when in fact great sums of human capital, all Wadden’s, have been expelled in their creation.

Walter Swennen, Installation View, Xavier Hufkens Photo: Allard Bovenberg, Amsterdam; Courtesy the Artist and Xavier Hufkens, Brussels

Walter Swennen, installation view, Xavier Hufkens.
Photo: Allard Bovenberg, Amsterdam; Courtesy the Artist and Xavier Hufkens, Brussels.

Walter Swennen, Xavier Hufkens, closes May 3.
A quick scan of one of Swennen’s shows might have one wanting to put him off in the realm of outsider art. His canvases wander in subject matter from geometric abstractions overlapping with colored squares to typography, from a massive, lumpy spider and Mickey Mouse to an approximation of Moby Dick. But that would be a gross misclassification. Now 68, but only recently given his due with exhibitions at Wiels and the Kunstverein Freiburg, Swennen’s refusal of much of the conventional thinking surrounding what painting should be today deconstructs the mythology surrounding the medium itself and indeed contemporary artistic life. He accumulates the source imagery and language that find their way onto his canvases as he does the often-recycled materials over which those canvases are ultimately stretched or draped. Just as he was originally interested in happenings and fluxus, Swenne’s paintings are about the act of painting itself. Rather than consisting of anything resembling a cohesive oeuvre, the paintings are intensely present and are as much if not more about preserving the moment of execution as they are about the forms they represent.

Richard Aldrich, Installation view: Gladstone Gallery, Brussels Photo: David Regen, Copyright Richard Aldrich, Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels

Richard Aldrich, installation view, Gladstone Gallery, Brussels.
Photo: David Regen, Copyright Richard Aldrich, Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels.

Richard Aldrich, Gladstone Gallery, closes June 3.
Entering Gladstone’s apartment-style gallery you are greeted by a minute sculpture of six plaster-cast books arranged in a fashion that suggests a grandly curving staircase with a wooden mannequin at its summit, suspended in the air, legs and arms stretched out as if in mid-sprint. It’s a precarious arrangement. The books should, according to the laws of physics, topple over. The figure is about to run off the last one’s end. You’re placed in between ticks of the second hand, which, for Aldrich’s work, could not be more appropriate.

The nine paintings and one other sculpture on view in the rather empty space are not new. Aldrich has worked and reworked them over the past decade or more. The second sculpture, Stacks, is composed of four bits of previous works—a brown paper bag, a transparent plinth, and a small wooden chest and valise, which are both painted dark green and look to be of military issue. No doubt, Aldrich’s additive process will assure that none of the works on view remain in their current state should they return to the studio. Oddly, the only way to keep progress at bay is with your checkbook.

David Adamo, Installation View, Galerie Rodolphe Janssen Brussels Courtesy Galerie Rodolphe Janssen

David Adamo, Installation View, Galerie Rodolphe Janssen Brussels.
Courtesy Galerie Rodolphe Janssen.

David Adamo, Galerie Rodolphe Janssen, closes May 28.
Adamo is perhaps best known for his brutishly hacked-away wooden sculptures. Two rather anthropomorphic examples of those are on view here. But the majority of the exhibition takes a new turn for the artist towards the interior, the home, and, indeed, childhood. Four large rectangles of black carpet hang on the walls like stark Malevich monochromes. However, on approach they reveal semi-figurative scenes carved into their fibers as if with a rather hefty electric razor. Their counterpoints are three similarly scaled “chain-links” of clear plastic tubing, barely perceptible against the white gallery walls.

The show’s object-based works highlight its humor. Adamo has built a multi-colored climbing wall in on corner of the gallery. Yet the handholds are constructed from fondant, a thick, icing-like substance used in pastry decoration, as if ready-made for a remake of Charlie in the Chocolate Factory. The childlike theme continues in three New York-style cast iron radiators sculpted out of beeswax, balsa wood, and bright red Sculpey molding clay. Either far too large or far too small for real life, there’s something incredibly darling about the sculptures and the very absurdity and uselessness of their creation.

Jan Fabre, Installation View,  Do we feel with our brain and think with our heart ?, Galerie Daniel Templon Brussels Courtesy Galerie Daniel Templon

Jan Fabre, installation view, “Do we feel with our brain and think with our heart?,” Galerie Daniel Templon Brussels.
Courtesy Galerie Daniel Templon.

Jan Fabre, “Do we feel with our brain and think with our heart?” Galerie Daniel Templon, closes May 31.
That Fabre chose marble as his primary material for a show based on investigations of empathy is something of a cruel, art historical joke. It’s become such a neglected material that we almost feel bad for it. It’s jarring when one enters the gallery space to see a massive, pristinely carved marble brain being pierced by a corkscrew. But that’s not as much due to the visual subject matter (save any pangs of regret had you sipped a few too many glasses of vino the night before), but rather due to how renegade, radical in fact, it feels to see the mineral so familiar from art history in a contemporary art context.

There’s an immediate conceptual explanation for why it works. Aside from the corkscrew, Fabre’s sculptures are pierced with scissors, crawled on by praying mantises, and used as a plinth for a marble banana. It’s a fun, free-associative, pseudo-surrealist mental game, one that gets teased out in the accompanying sketches, which place a more direct line between the works and forbearers like fellow Belgian Rene Magritte. But the material itself, in its associations with gods’ bodies and popes’ busts, has a synecdochal, everyman quality. We’ve all got a piece of brain on Fabre’s shined up marble slabs.

At least those of us whose empathy receptors are firing. In the accompanying film for which the show is named, Fabre chats with noted neuroscientist Giacomo Rizzolatti, discoverer of the “mirror neurons” that allow humans to feel empathy. The men alternate between wearing EEG caps and having a singular electrode rod poking from the tops of their heads as they discuss, adding a not-insignificant humor quotient to the otherwise dry material. The upshot? In order to comprehend the corkscrew piercing the marble brain, we first have to iagine it boring into our own brain matter.

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