Atelier Van Lieshout: A Journey into the Unknown
Based in Rotterdam, in the studio he founded in 1995 and that bears his name, Joep van Lieshout is the perfect antidote to political correctness. Much to the chagrin of narrow-minded critics who like to compartmentalize everything, this unclassifiable Dutch artist continually pushes the boundaries of decency and blurs the lines between disciplines. Straddling sculpture, architecture, design and performance, his hybrid creations result from a collective work involving designers, metalworkers and craftsmen. His installations are adaptable, sometimes even inhabitable, but more often than not interactive. They rehabilitate the sense of touch, long dismissed in favour of vision. Rarely have spectators been encouraged to become such an integral part of what they see.
Gaping holes, pronounced phallic forms, suggestive positions: Like no other artist, Joep van Lieshout explores the subversive powers of eroticism. Shocking! Readers might recall the controversy around his Domestikator (2015), a monumental sculpture depicting two copulating figures, which the Louvre initially refused to display in the Jardin des Tuileries. The work was eventually installed on the forecourt of Centre Pompidou during the International Contemporary Art Fair (FIAC) in Paris. When he is not capturing the opposing forces at play in a perpetually struggling world, Joep van Lieshout breathes life into utopian alternatives. These can take the unpredictable form of a journey into the unknown populated by strange objects and ingenious machines, or of an act of transgression that reaches beyond the strict boundaries of art to delve into the realm of politics, for instance when he established an independent city on the banks of the port of Rotterdam in 2001 (AVL-Ville), complete with its own currency, rules and flag. The controversial aura surrounding the Dutch sculptor will no doubt shed a brilliant light on this 9th edition of Luxembourg Art Week!
From 21 October, in the run-up to the fair, to 23 November 2023, the city of Luxembourg will be hosting a series of recent sculptures from Atelier Van Lieshout (AVL). This significant event was specifically designed for the Grand Duchy and the iconic sites of its capital. It will allow spectators to admire the damage a car suffers when it comes into contact with the Drop Hammer House, a huge mechanical press used by Atelier Van Lieshout to reduce to shreds any object that looks a bit too new. With this enormous car carcass titled Volvo (2020) located on the Robert Schuman roundabout, the cycle of production and consumption is running idle, exhausting itself... The forces of creation and destruction conjoin, captured in a single gesture that reminds us that Joep van Lieshout is an artist who loves to play with contrasts and opposites. Desacralizing the status of the artist and his involvement in the production process, the work created/destroyed here entirely proceeds from an imperative mechanism of annihilation. And, finally, how not to see in this vertically suspended structure a crucifixion scene of our time, or a joint homage to César and Francis Bacon?
Another surprise of this public exhibition is the gigantic steel whale (The Whale, 2022) that has beached near the Musée Dräi Eechelen, alluding to the Book of Jonah as well as Herman Melville novel Moby Dick (1851) , where humans and animals are locked in a fierce battle. The rusted and battered skin of the colossal cetacean attests to the terrible trials it has endured to reach us – its very presence could thus be seen as a miracle. Ironically, in light of the ecological disaster that unfolds outside, the whale’s body becomes a makeshift shelter for humans, much like the one in which Jonah hoped to escape the divine storm... The religious allegory continues in the following works along the sculpture trail. On Place de Metz, two sculptures from the New Tribal Labyrinth series depict scenes of cruelty that blur the lines between humans and animals.
In The Equestrian (2015), the military heroism typical of equestrian statues is demystified in favour of a display of crude violence: one human figure has been disembowled and lies on the ground, while another is assailed by the rider and his horse. Not far away, and also aiming to strip violence of its sacred aura, is a representation of a mother protecting her child from an imminent and anonymous threat Mother with Child (2023). The last bronze sculpture in this ensemble is more intimate: a self-portrait of Joep van Lieshout as a resolute old man facing adversity. Despite his weariness and advanced age, he continues his solitary journey with all his might, helped by a cane that illuminates the world like a lantern (Old Man, 2018). These three sculptures are part of the group The Monument.
Further ahead, the forecourt of Notre-Dame Cathedral of Luxembourg provides the ideal setting for Last Supper (2020), the ultimate moment of communion in which Jesus announces his imminent death. This particularly moving episode is shown here through a powerful structure that imposes itself on viewers, a cage that forebodes the impending drama. Christ and the apostles are its valiant captives, their soft, liquid, phallic forms countering the steadfast rectitude of the cage with regenerative values. At Centre Jean XXIII on rue Jules Wilhelm, a Waterwagon (2007) emerges straight from the hell of Slave City. In this self-sufficient cannibalistic city that runs at ‘full throttle’, knowing neither hunger nor unemployment and disease, everything is recycled and has a use value, starting with human beings: entirely white, devoid of faces, impersonal and therefore interchangeable, they are slaves pulling a cistern to supply the city with water. A dystopian fiction that resonates with the great tragedies of the twentieth century.
Joep van Lieshout's multifaceted production confronts the great challenges of our time, such as war, climate collapse and aspirations for alternative living. It boldly crosses the species boundaries in the era of transhumanism and captures intense, transient moments, always on the verge of tipping over, wavering between climax and decline, existence and disappearance. His works have been the subject of numerous international exhibitions and can be found in numerous permanent collections of renowned private and public institutions, including MoMA (New York), Centre Pompidou (Paris), Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Ludwig Forum Aachen and Fondazione Prada (Milan). Recently, works from Atelier Van Lieshout were featured in the exhibition Les Portes du possible. Art et science-fiction at Centre Pompidou-Metz (from 5 November to 10 April 2023).
Last Supper, 2020
Forecourt of Notre-Dame Cathedral
At the crossroads between rue de l’Ancien Athénée L- 1143
and boulevard Franklin D. Roosevelt L-2450 Luxembourg
Place de Metz
The Whale, 2022
Musée Dräi Eechelen
5 Park Dräi Eechelen L-1499 Luxembourg
Roundabout Robert Schuman
Centre Jean XXIII, 52 rue Jules Wilhelm