Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing
No.104 Caochangdi Cun, Cui Gezhuang Xiang
Chaoyang District, PRC - 100015 Beijing, China
May 14 through July 31, 2011
Wim Delvoye is regarded as something of a provocateur specializing in the realization of blatantly strange ideas – most famously, tattooed pigs and a machine that is fed with food and produces actual shit. Far from being shock jock tactics, Delvoye’s mad science brand of artmaking has the unique ability to make us laugh and think at the same time. While his latest work might be a bit more subtle in its approach, its underlying implications are no less severe. In fact, it even gives some clues to the hidden logic behind the artist’s motivations, a logic that ultimately unites his disparate activities into a singular, proportion-defying Gesamtkunswerk.
It has been noted that one of the more dramatic shifts of interest in Delvoye’s work in recent years has been towards Gothic architecture. Besides providing a visual articulation that resonates in severity with his more action-oriented works, Delvoye’s deployment of Gothic motifs is not so unusual for a brutalist whose processual engagement with counter-economies of knowledge often puts him in discomfiting league with the orthodoxies he purports to critique. You can certainly discern more than one cryptic commentary on the contemporary art world in a work like Dump Truck (Scale Model), 2007, in which the ornate majesty of the traditional style, pointed arches and all, is employed to form that vehicular device for getting rid of all that is excessive and undesirable. Beyond this slightly simple reading pace the economics of disengagement, one is also reminded that the Gothic was the first Western style to become officially passé thanks to its critical send-off by Vasari. In this light, Delvoye’s deployment of the Gothic visual language in models of such utilitarian objects as automobile tires, cement mixers, and garbage trucks can be read as a giant thumbnose to market-fueled fantasies that place all that is “contemporary” on a pedestal, one that is supported by the Hegelian dream of progress-through-temporal-linearity.
Fans of Delvoye’s Art Farm, better known as the tattooed pig project, can enjoy the experience here at a remove; no living pigs are exhibited, but there are four skins of deceased members of the artist’s Chinese farm, as well as a three-channel video documenting life amongst the tattooed oinkers. Of course, what makes this project so controversial is its morality. Delvoye is certainly no great friend of PETA, and a European court recently ruled out the project’s legality on the continent, which is one of the reasons why Delvoye has moved to China. (For the record, I find myself somewhere in the middle, being stridently against the needless infliction of pain on any living being, but also a fan of tattoo art; indeed, I happen to be a creature with four of them on my body.) The skins, hung behind glass, more closely resemble treasured rugs than paintings, while the video brings to mind the opening sequence of Pasolini’s Porcile.
Seen in concert with Delvoye’s Gothic church models, recently displayed in Europe, and his stained glass windows made of x-rays, two of which can be seen in the show at Galerie Urs Meile, I would conjecture that the emergent church of Wim Delvoye is one that attempts to unearth the basest ethos of a tormented, corporeal Catholicism, while simultaneously debunking all that is considered holy in the secular world.
Travis Jeppesen's novels include The Suiciders, Wolf at the Door, and Victims. He is the recipient of a 2013 Arts Writers grant from Creative Capital/the Warhol Foundation. In 2014, his object-oriented writing was featured in the 2014 Whitney Biennial and in a solo exhibition at Wilkinson Gallery in London. A collection of novellas, All Fall, is forthcoming from Publication Studio.view all articles from this author