The exhibition called Jan Fabre: Knight of Despair / Warrior of Beauty opened in the Hermitage Museum on October 22nd and will be on display until April 30th, 2017.
The public’s reaction however has been quite controversial.
Jan Fabre is probably the most influential and significant artist in Belgium today. He is also one of the most versatile contemporary masters in the world, for his work includes mainly drawings, films, sculptures and installations. Although Fabre uses different spheres of art, and he definitely understands the features of each one, three main subjects unite his entire work. These are the world of insects, the human body and the strategy of war.
In the Hermitage Museum there are a number of spaces, which are used for temporary exhibitions. However in the case of Jan Fabre, the situation is different. The artist was born in Antwerp, the hometown of Peter Paul Rubens, who is known worldwide. The Hermitage can boast of a rich collection of Flemish art in general, and work by Rubens in particular. Therefore, to show this connection and to emphasize the Flemish origin of Jan Fabre, his works are on display in the rooms of Flemish art as well as in the halls of the Winter palace and the General Staff building.
It is not the first time that the art museums try to give new life to the old masters by exhibiting modern art in the same halls. Actually, the idea of organizing this exhibition of Fabre emerged after his art was displayed at the Louvre in the halls of Dutch and Flemish art in 2008. But the exhibition in the Hermitage is at a larger scale. Some of the works on display were specially created for this event in St Petersburg.
Jan Fabre uses materials that are not very typical for an artist. Among them is blood, ink of BIC pens, stuffed animals, bones of animals and jewel-scarab wing cases. To tell the truth the most famous work of Fabre is perhaps the Heaven of delight, it is the ceiling decoration in the Royal palace in Brussels made of one million six hundred thousand jewel-scarab wing cases. The emerald wing cases not only cover parts of the ceiling, but also one of the chandeliers. Of course, it looks amazing (and actually, you can see for yourselves if you are in Brussels after July 21 until the beginning of September, when the palace is open to public). After the hall was first opened, almost in every interview Fabre had to explain that those bugs are in fact eaten in Thailand and then their wing cases are used to make jewelry for women and neither of them had really died for the sake of art.
His works on display are as versatile as the artist himself. There are quite disturbing animalistic installations that as if communicate with the old masterpieces of the collection, For example there is a stuffed hare in front of the painting by Paul de Vos Still life with dead game and lobster. The question is why is it fine to see stuffed animals in a zoological museum (there is in fact one in St Petersburg with a wonderful collection) but so unsettling in a museum of fine arts?
Other exhibits include golden sculptures, bestiary, elegant graphics, pictures made of wing cases and marble bas-reliefs. Since Fabre is also a film director, on the exhibition they show eight movies by him including the one shot in the Winter Palace in June 2016 featuring the artist himself. The movie is in fact quite funny: wearing old knight armor Jan Fabre goes through the Hermitage Museum rooms, greeting the paintings. The hero of the performance is naïve and simple-minded, but shows the same admiration towards the old masters as does Jan Fabre.
Jan Fabre and Peter Paul Rubens have a lot in common, not just their hometown. Fabre is also extremely fruitful and versatile, and whatever he does, his style is always recognizable.
So before making up your mind about this significant master and the exhibition – come and check it all out yourselves! For further information please contact us, we will be happy to help you!