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Dialogue with Light was born in the wake of a trio of recent exhibitions in New York (Guggenheim), Berlin (Martin Gropius Bau) and Amsterdam (Stedelijk Museum), which brought forth the rediscovery of the Zero movement (1958-1968) and with it, an understanding of the group as a leading international trend. With over 130 artists associated by their expressions, it formed a network of artistic concerns that, for perhaps the first time ever, interlinked in a global way. A generation of artists born in the 1930s, adolescents during the Second World War, seemed to react with a clean slate, a blank page, back to zero. Belgium was closely involved in this story. Of particular note was the Motion in Vision – Vision in Motion exhibition held in Antwerp in 1959, which served as the starting point for the internationalization of Zero. Amongst the Belgians associated with this dynamic, Pol Bury, #walterleblanc, Van Hoeydonck and #jefverheyen are regularly cited.
The decision to focus on the two Belgian representatives closest to Zero, #walterleblanc and #jefverheyen, is not an obvious choice. If they were friends at the Antwerp Academy, they quickly evolved independently of each other, without really associating with one another. They could be found within the G58 Group and sharing wall space in several group exhibitions, including the Belgian Pavilion at the 1970 Venice Biennial, but always alongside other artists. Thus, only a few points of biographical contact exist.
As such, Dialogue with Light is not an exhibition of friendship but a dialogue through art.During their short careers (Jef Verheyen died aged 51 of a heart attack whilst judo training; #walterleblanc died in a car accident two years later), comparable and obstinate themes unfolded as favourites of them both. Questioning painting, a core interest in light, opening up alternative space (mentally for one, physically for the other) were to be clear inscriptions of the Zero movement.
It is this dialogue that forms the exhibition. The tight selection of works (less than 80) was guided less by monographic criteria and more by the intention to do justice to the artists by offering up time for contemplation. Indeed, the works of #walterleblanc and #jefverheyen are demanding. The almost monochrome quest of Verheyen and the obsessive twists of Leblanc, are those that require time. Rather than an accumulation of documents, the journey taken favours a dialogue around an intuitive perception of their works. For the key moments where they meet in the timeline, Dialogue with Light aims to simply create a long look. Time, the heart of their work, as in the original Zero movement, opens up art effortlessly and significantly.
1958 Date of Birth
Our starting point is the year 1958. In Germany, the first issue of the Zero magazine marks the birth of the group. Heinz Mack and Otto Piene, joined in 1961 by Günther Uecker, constitute the core of the group. The experience will last ten years. It is more intuitive and philosophical than programmatic: a manifesto was not published until 1963, several years before the dissolution of the group. For these artists, the aim was to find a new path relating neither to abstract expressionism or lyrical abstraction, offering up a philosophical space filled with light, a gradual movement with new materials.
The same year, Belgium hosts Expo 58, a burst of modernism signifying the young artistic generation. On the plus side, a large #contemporaryart exhibition shows the work of international artists, however, young Belgians are not represented. In response, the G58 group is formed in Antwerp. For them, 1958 is the year that requires you to be of your time, and to live.
Walter Leblanc, The Rigours of Twisting
After exploring the effects of material for several years (sand, nylon sticks) on the canvas, in 1959 #walterleblanc focuses on torsion or twisting, which is the central element of his thoughts. By winding wires on themselves, he creates Twisted Strings, work which hosts a network of vibration of varying degrees. He would explore this concept and its infinite possibilities right up to his death. Playing on rhythm, surface vibration and the imprint of light, he fully exploits a conscious vocabulary limited only by strict necessity.
From 1960, arising from the same concept, Leblanc deploys a second series known as the Torsions Mobilo-Statics. This time, the twists are created by scoring the surface of the work. In this way, they show the back of the canvas and the space behind it, often creating dynamic colour contrasts. The twist is completely controlled. The appearance of Mobilo-Statics changed according to the position of the viewer, giving the impression of a slow and fascinating movement. Thus the paint seemed to ooze out and enter the space. In 1962, the artist, committed to this evolution, would devote a group exhibition hosting several members of Zero. He called it Anti-Painting.
Twisted Strings and Torsions Mobilo-Statics were Leblanc’s primary research. Through torsion, he would also work in sculpture, photograms and screen printing, wholeheartedly embracing Zero’s philosophy. Though limited to a specific language, he made the most of it and produced a renewed pictorial experience with almost scientific rigour. His work is a fine illustration of Zero.
With #jefverheyen, monochrome finds its way. After his early beginnings in ceramics, influenced by Chinese tradition, in the late 1950s he began to employ pictorial depth using light and matter. Meeting with Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni in Milan encourages him on the path to monochrome.
In 1959-60, an impressive series of works in rapid succession consisting of coloured canvases with subtle tonal elements, revealed every nuance of the surface in a life of contemplation. Time stood still. Here, there was no subjective gesture, but a work of great detail in search of a transformation from canvas to space. As emotive as it is, Verheyen’s quest is not easily reduced to mere words. Inspired by the Flemish pictorial tradition, Verheyen captures the subtleties of light. How can the surface take on a luminous quality? The answer lies in an imperceptible transition from darkness to light, as delicate as a prism of light, by an almost invisible fusion of tones.
This romantic approach moves away from the a priori concepts of Zero. But Verheyen illustrates the movement in another way. Unlike Leblanc, he declines obsessive twisting, and seeks to broaden his scope. He is an angular figure in Zero, traveling widely and increasing his contacts between artists. An important part of his work consisted of collaborations, each of which would tend to open and expand the space of the work. In 1960, Englebert Van Anderlecht indicated further movement of his black monochromes. In 1962, Lucio Fontana slammed several of his paintings. In 1964, Verheyen produced Essentieel, an experimental film, with poet Paul De Vree. The confrontation of his work to another universe is central, and is representative of the Zero dynamics.
The exhibition: A Dialogue Tending Toward Zero
Two radically different artists. Two disciplines that require prolonged perception to penetrate the essence. Leblanc pursues a quest for vibration, movement and space. Verheyen seeks a willingness to immateriality and interior depth. Both feel the extent of the Zero movement. Both share, in their own way, the same desire to free the paint from its constraints and examine the qualities of space and light.
This exhibition seeks to connect the two artists work to create an imaginary dialogue. Through the exchange, the confrontation of the works, the visitor's gaze can devour the similarities and differences, penetrating the two seemingly hermetically sealed worlds. Comparisons sustain one’s gaze. The gap between the two is filled by the richness of the Zero movement.
Dialogue with Light in Brussels hopes to honour these two important international and national artists of the avant-garde and to encourage further research and aspirations to exhibit their work. The #walterleblanc Foundation conducts extensive work in this area. Conversely, #jefverheyen has yet to do so in monographs, although Axel Vervoordt has initiated many major exhibitions on the painter. By highlighting the lesser known aspects to Verheyen’s work, such as ceramics and watercolours, Dialogue with Light aims to open up new avenues of research.
DIALOGUE WITH LIGHT. #walterleblanc - Jef Verheyen
27.10.2016 > 22.01.2017
Free Opening Night to the General Public: Wednesday 26.10.2016 – 18:30 > 21:00 Opening of the doors at 18:30.
Jef Verheyen- Bevel- 1963-64- Anvers- Axel - May Vervoordt Foundation -c- tous droits reserves- SABAM 2016
Jef Verheyen- Espace noir- 1959-60- Private collection- Courtesy galerie Dierking- Zurich -c- tous droits reserves- SABAM 2016
Walter Leblanc- Archetypes. Sculpture 1- 1985- Musee Royaux des Beaux-Arts de Bruxelles -c- Walter Leblanc- SABAM 2016
Walter Leblanc- Torsions Mobilo-Static. 100C 36- 1962- Centre Pompidou- Paris -c- Walter Leblanc- SABAM 2016
Walter Leblanc- Torsions. C.45- 1961- Proximus Art Collection -c- Walter Leblanc- SABAM 2016
Walter Leblanc- Twisted Strings. 40F x 387- 1964- Coll Musee dIxelles -c- Walter Leblanc- SABAM 2016
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