VAN DE VELDE
JULY 1 – AUGUST 8, 2020
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KÖNIG LONDON presents Ashtrays, an exhibition of recent works by Belgium-based artist Rinus Van De Velde, on view July 1st through August 8th, 2020. This is Van De Velde‘s fourth solo exhibition with König Galerie, and his first at König London.
As an artist working across a
variety of media, Rinus Van de Velde has made a career of exposing the limits
and potentials of art’s seeming unreality. His work suggests that the
fictitiousness of art relates to its distance from the particulars of everyday
life. But if art is something we can only experience at select—one might even
say privileged—moments, viewers still have to account for the living, breathing
personalities who give shape to a work. Although centuries of art criticism
have claimed that art should aspire to disinterested formalism, Van de Velde
foregrounds the strange identity of an artist with his art. The fact that he
often uses an alter ego to sign off on his works makes the interrelationship
between art and artist all the more apparent—as well as wryly conspiratorial.
For Van de Velde, dramatic
characterizations are key to an ongoing story about the imbricated relationship
of reality and fiction. In the current exhibition, ceramic ashtrays have become
the symbolic complement of this narrative awareness. While ceramics generally
carry a decorative connotation, these works foreground a mock historicity. As
objects alluding to design, they nevertheless take on an expressive aspect
similar to sculpture. As though excavated from the ruins of a vanished city,
Van de Velde’s ashtrays exemplify the moralistic and sinister divagations which
characterize our epoch.
The unwieldiness of Van de Velde’s
ashtrays—replete with diminutive creatures at work or play, denizens of a
miniature, Bosch-like dystopia—leads viewers to wonder at the significance of
their still-frame lives. Mindful of the plastic conventions associated with
ceramic works, his ashtrays are theatrical amphoras where glazed figures
clownishly pantomime the tragicomic spectacle of life. To the extent that we
might actually use the ashtrays, we become like little gods, ominously lording
it over the majesty of our alienated creation, exhaling plumes of smoke.
For Van de Velde, art is a dish best
served in the form of a mask, a fictitious host. His multitudinous personae
wear his borrowed flesh, simulating the life of a person bound to the
inevitability of birth, suffering and death. Making ashtrays from the depths of
an alter ego, which is both the artist himself and something of a literary
guise plucked from his unconscious, Van De Velde continues to pioneer a
distinctive sensibility. Projecting an imagined “I” which is larger than
life—or, in this instance, much smaller than life—he traces out the limits of
selfhood and its role in shaping reality.
Text: Jeffrey Grunthaner