Museum Tinguely will host Switzerland‘s first major retrospective of Belgian artist Wim Delvoye in 2017. Since the late 1980s, Delvoye has been known for works that rest on intelligently witty admixtures of the profane with the sublime, where tradition clashes with utopia and craftsmanship with high-tech. The exhibition in Basel, which was created in collaboration with MUDAM Luxembourg, will run from June 14, 2017, to January 1, 2018, and will showcase the range of Delvoye’s work from his early days to the present.
It all began with the drawings that Delvoye made as a child, which can be read as laying the foundations of what was to follow. Here, we already find the openness, the curiosity, the penchant for monumentality and the thrill of all things new and strange that have consistently characterized the man and his work. Delvoye’s art is rooted in his own Flemish heritage with its love of tradition, craftsmanship and engineering combined with an openness to the world, a lively imagination, and utopianism – as evidenced in the works of other Flemish artists like James Ensor, Paul Van Hoeydonck and Panamarenko.
At the same time, Delvoye is one for whom national borders have no meaning, which is why he works with artisans in Indonesia, China or Iran. His Ironing Boards (1990) bear the coats of arms of his home country, and his 18 Dutch Gas-Cans (1987 – 1988) are decorated with Delft porcelain painting. The solid steel tubes in Chantier V (1995) are supported by specially made porcelain feet, whereas some of the concrete mixers and barriers in Chantier I (1990- 1992) are made of artfully carved wood. Media intermingle; materials are suspended in a creative tension. The banal is embellished to make it art; folk art becomes a museum piece.
Ironic refraction is a method that Delvoye is especially fond of and uses extensively. After all, the consternation of his viewers is part of his artistic repertoire. Artistic considerations inevitably become enmeshed with moral ones when his exhibits include Tim (2006-2008), the Swiss man who sold his skin for tattoos first to the artist and later to a collector – as they will during the opening week of the show at Art Basel. The questions are simply too pressing to be ignored, and they ask to be answered one way or another. Another highlight of the exhibition will be Cement Truck (2012-2016), which is set up in Solitude Park next to Museum Tinguely. This full-size vehicle is made of Corten steel plates which have been laser cut to reproduce neo-Gothic tracery and ornaments. The same aesthetic informs the drop-shaped Suppo (2010) a neo-Gothic cathedral model comprising only a single twisted and contorted spire with ornamentation.
The exhibition at Museum Tinguely in Basel, Switzerland, will allow visitors to explore the world of a Belgian artist who is constantly reinventing himself and whose love of novelty and surprise is almost palpable. The sculptures and drawings are at the same time a beautiful inspiration to reflect on art, on life and on the world.
Wim Delvoye was born in Wervik, Belgium, in 1965. He lives and works in Ghent and Brighton.