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This summer, Antwerp presents exhibition of Jan Fabre's Pietas in renovated Park Spoor Noord
Jan Fabre, Merciful dream Pieta. Photo Pat Verbruggen. ®Angelos bvba.

ANTWERP.- From 25 May until 23 September 2012, the city of Antwerp presents the exhibition Pietas Jan Fabre. Created by Jan Fabre in 2011, this marble sculptural suite was featured for the first time during the 54th Venice Biennale, where it occupied the prestigious Nuova Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Misericordia. In the artist’s home city of Antwerp, PIETAS will be the first exhibition to be held in the renovated Parkloods in Park Spoor Noord.

Jan Fabre is best known in Flanders for his 1998 sculpture The man who measures clouds, and for his 2002 work Heaven of Delight, a permanent installation in the Mirror Room of the Royal Palace in Brussels made from 1,400,000 jewel beetle shields. He is also renowned for his deep Bicblue ballpoint drawings entitled The Hour Blue, created between 1977 and 1992, and for his innovative theatre work. However, for over thirty years Jan Fabre has also surprised an international audience with his diverse and highly original work. The PIETAS exhibition brings together his supremely personal language of imagery and canonical highlights of art history, confirming his reputation as one of the most important artists working in Belgium and internationally.

In PIETAS, created in 2011, Fabre’s five white marble sculptures describe variations on the theme of the Pietà, the iconic image of Mary cradling the dead body of her son Jesus in her arms. Fabre’s interpretation presents concepts such as grief and acceptance, death and rebirth as well as man’s capacity for imagination, inventiveness and art. As was the case in the ‘Anthropology of a Planet’ (2007) and ‘From the Feet to the Brain’ (2008-2009) exhibitions, the brain also plays a key role in this work. ‘Pietà I-IV’ are large brain sculptures that figure as a base-world-cosmos for a range of naturalist and Christian symbolic systems. In the manner of mile poles or stations of the cross, the four brain-sculptures compel viewers along the path to the exhibition’s apotheosis: the ‘Merciful Dream (Pietà V)’. In this impressive piece, a challenging interpretation of Michelangelo’s iconic work, Fabre puts himself in the place of the Christ figure, and replaces Mary’s face with a skull. The four brain sculptures and the reinterpretation of Michelangelo’s ‘Piëta’ are rendered in white Carrara marble and placed in geometrical orientation on a platform covered in 24-carat gold leaf. Hung around them are the ‘Cocon I-X’ amulets, covered in shiny green jewel beetle shields.

Through PIETAS, Jan Fabre gives poetic shape to his deeply personal inner world. The pure language of the shapes in the installation recall the utopian self-consciousness of the Renaissance. Baroque and symbolic details obscure a complex mythology, while countless insects and plants suggest ties to mother nature and her cycles of growth and decay. References to art history and to the artist’s own work add additional dimensions to the sculptures. PIETAS appeals not only to our physicality, but also to our senses. The lush colours and textures of the materials are hypnotic, enhancing the ritual nature of the experience of viewers who don felted slippers and mount the platform to see the sculptures.

The dialogue between material and spirit, reality and fantasy, explicitness and the power of suggestion lends PIETA an almost supernatural aura. Nevertheless, Fabre’s sculptures are more sacred than religious in nature. By rearranging his iconic framework, the artist presents questions and asides to our culturally-determined assumptions about art and religion, life and death. As timeless and inviolable as the sculptures are, as a group they reduce the human body, along with its organs and experience, to a key to a world that is in a constant state of flux, but which we can also set in motion of our own volition.

The eternal process of metamorphosis is the driving force behind Fabre’s work, and it is its essence. While on the one hand PIETAS is a confronting reminder of our own inescapable mortality, it also marks the sculptural group as a late stage of suffering, and identifies birth and rebirth as a natural sequel to death. The provocative and sensual poetry of PIETAS sparks the viewer’s imagination. Fabre’s art can be experienced both as a modern synthesis of the age-old dilemmas inherent to life and as an allegory of our will to live. His oeuvre celebrates the ecstasy of creativity, and is an ode to human existence.

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