Rinus Van de Velde | ASHTRAYS
KÖNIG LONDON | 1.7.–8.8.2020

RINUS VAN DE VELDE
ASHTRAYS
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