Whitehot Magazine

April 2008, Le Point Zero: Philippe Vandenberg @ Angel Orensanz Foundation Center for the Arts


Le Point Zero: Philippe Vandenberg
Curated by Jan Van Woensel
Angel Orensanz Foundation | Center for the Arts
172 Norfolk Street (Between Stanton & E. Houston)
New York, NY 10003

Le Point Zero marks Philippe Vandenberg’s underground return to the United States, literally in the basement of the Angel Orensanz Foundation | Center for the Arts. Jan Van Woensel’s reintroduction of Vandenberg to the United States after twenty-two years is significant now here more than ever. As Vandenberg questions the role of conflict throughout history as a means to progress, the world questions the United States’ prolonged involvement in Iraq. The extreme program of his practice and vision echoes the frustrated voice of unrest on all sides. Vandenberg embodies the kamikaze as a representative and messenger devoted to a cause, in his case painting.

Tearing through altitudes and programmed to self-destruct, the kamikaze propels into the target. Likewise, Vandenberg’s assignment is one of self-sabotage. Identifying with this “bomber” pilot, he shares a singleness of vision to a mission outside himself. Eliminating ego, Vandenberg follows a contrary process in pursuit of unforeseen outcomes via clashing elements. These collisions spark unintentional charges of agitation that ignite his body of work in motion.

Born of conflict, contrast, and contradiction, Vandenberg’s work does not stop turning. The energy rises from the basement of the 1849 Lower East Side neo-gothic synagogue, now the Angel Orensanz Foundation | Center for the Arts, with all the torque of a possession. The dynamism between positive and negative forces creates a perpetual state of tension and unrest within the works. Conflict, thus, takes form as a movement, which drives a practice of negation. Vandenberg then follows seemingly reckless strategies that are actually a carefully cacophonous decision-making. As each decision happens in counter point to another, the compositions move through steps of check and balance. He constantly changes his course to resist stillness and predictability all of which he equates with death.

In choreographed negation, Vandenberg pits one move against another with less jest but similar in attitude to the play of Albert Oehlen and Martin Kippenberger. Consequently in tone, this project maintains sarcasm in an effort to destabilize the sensitive hand with a coarse voice. Out of Vandenberg’s refusal to take the role of art and the artist too seriously titles arise such as La Misere du Jour (The Misery of the Day), Ayez Pitié du Peintre (Have Pity for the Painter), and De Lach (The Laugh). His resistance of sympathy and romance is part of his mission to rid painting of pleasure and sentiment as an honest expression of Le Point Zero (The Zero Degree), elements of which appear throughout in trails of desire, courage, and blood.

The weight of mood in his work accumulates from an evasion of stillness-predictability-repetition, all symbolic to the death of the artist. This shadow invades his works be it figuratively with Goya’s dog and the hare and rooks of Christian iconography or formally with L’Abime (The Abyss) of geometric abstraction. Charting his restless flight, Vandenberg develops abstract maps of his decision making as webs of converging and diverging lines. With titles such as Exil De Peintre (The Painter’s Exile) and Les Grands Emboutaillages (The Great Traffic Jam), he suggests no escape from the moral, creative, and emotional struggles of a life path in the midst of The Zero Degree. Vandenberg’s identification with nomadism through the biblical story of Cain and Abel, both representations of the mobile and immobile, spirit and matter respectively, is in ever-present discourse.1 These journeys trace the wandering soul and doubting mind both damned and destined to a life in exile.

On his sprawling maps, Vandenberg marks intersections of line with emblematic swastikas. Here, he refuses the eye and emotions any point of calm and actually deflects the viewer from embracing or identifying with the painting in full. The theme of points in contestation reverberates out from the work to the actual site of the exhibition. Curating these paintings in the basement of a once functioning synagogue is physically and symbolically significant… perhaps as the buried memory of victims or the latent animosity of perpetrators, roles played by all at some point in time.2

For Vandenberg, these battles play out in series as scenes of torture and rape that constitute history, society, and faith. Pictures of imprisonment to corrupt kings and the aforementioned hares and rooks of Christian iconography are captured with a seemingly naïve but broken hand. These bleak moments offer very little beyond lonely death and purgatory; thus, how can the cycle of history be broken, and if so what change is offered for our lives?

Scratched through a layer of muddied oil paint, IL FAUT TOUT OUBLIER (It’s necessary to forget everything) responds to the nihilistic labyrinths and vignettes of Vandenberg’s work. This voice shouts to let go of matching fear with fear and violence with violence. Philippe Vandenberg assumes these conflicts in his practice to reach out to the viewer who can, with conscious change, in effect deliver the artist from the exile of having to paint these paintings.

Link to the Press Release about the Exhibition here.

Richard Goldstein

Richard Goldstein is a Brooklyn based painter and sculptor.





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