December 17, 2013

Walter Swennen: Belgian funny



Recently transplanted to Belgium after spending ten years in LA, our friend at Frenchy But Chic! reports that there are a few Belgian painters worth checking out besides Tuymans and Borremans, particularly Walter Swennen, who is currently having a retrospective at the Wiels:
Forget everything you might have read about Luc Tuymans or Michaël Borremans, the greatest living Belgian painter today is someone you've likely never heard of, Walter Swennen. I say.
Unlike the two painters mentioned above, he's actually fun and looking at his career retrospectively, innovative as well  rather than wallowing in the nostalgia of dated figurative painting, beholden to the market, making works only ignorant wealthy people would want hanging over the sofa, whatever they're boring. Because his work is so obviously humorous I guess it's the reason he might not be taken as seriously as his Belgian brethren, which is the fate awaiting any artist using humor in their work. If your work isn't depressing and purporting to deal with heavy subject matter, whether it's contemporary politics or the Holocaust, it's going to be passed over in favor of, oh, I don't know, gray figurative paintings of dead people or something. Or straightforward documentary videos of anything political, or propaganda posters or cardboard placards telling you how you should think, so it spares you the energy of having to do it for yourself. God, the art world is so boring and predictable sometimes.
Anyway, Swennen has two things going against him to be taken seriously as an artist in the pages of glossy international art magazines; one being that he's a painter and the other that his work is hilarious. Because we're contrarians here at FBC!, we've decided that he is in fact one of the two greatest living contemporary Belgian artists, the other being Ria Pacquée. There might be others, but I haven't been here long enough to list more. Oh yes, there is one! I like Hans Op De Beek's work very much....
There is a distinctive element in Swennen's work that recalls a certain type of 1980s and 1990s painting, like this one above that could evoke Albert Oehlen, for example. And like these two painters, you could also trace back Swennen's use of humor and borrowing of comics and cartoons tropes to pioneer painter Sigmar Polke. And like Polke and Kippenberger, the use of what seems at first glance conspicuously goofily-made, carelessly painted images is just a device to get at the essence of painting as a medium..."
I can't imagine readers wouldn't want to read the rest of FBC!'s report here. I'm looking forward to learning more about the Belgian art scene.

Image above: Exhibition view of "Walter Swennen: So Far So Good," at WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels. Through January 26, 2014. Photo: Kristien Daem.

Image from his gallery website:
Walter Swennen, Egyptiens, 2013, oil on canvas, 160 x 170 cm. Courtesy of Nicolas Krupp.

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