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Jan Fabre: The Years of the Hour Blue @ Kunsthistorisches Museum Vienna

Jan Fabre Het Medium / The Medium 1979 series: Het Uur blauw/ The Hour Blue Bic ballpoint pen on metal bed, mattress, sheets, pillow 
125 x 120 x 192 cm Private Collection Courtesy Deweer Gallery, Otegem © VBK, Vienna 2010; Photo © Deweer Gallery

Jan Fabre: The Years of the Hour Blue
Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

May 4 – August 28, 2011

One of Europe’s most fascinating artists, Jan Fabre is having one of his best years ever. The 52-year-old Belgian artist, playwright, film and theater director, and choreographer is showing large marble sculptures, which reference Michelangelo's Pietà, at the Nuova Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Misericordia, an historic church school in Venice, as part of the 54th Venice Biennale. He had a spectacular survey show spanning some 30 years of work at the Netherlands’ Kröller-Müller Museum in Otterlo that was spread throughout the museum’s modernist building and sprawling sculpture garden. And, to top off the year—which is far from over—Vienna’s Kunsthistorisches Museum hosted The Years of the Hour Blue, a display of his ballpoint pen drawings and sculptures interspersed with the works of Old Masters from its compelling collection.

Jan Fabre Drie Klauwen / Three Claws 1987 series: Het Uur blauw/ The Hour Blue Bic ballpoint pen on paper 1500 x 2000 mm 
Private Collection Axel Enthoven, Antwerp © VBK, Vienna 2010; Photo: © Angelos

 Skillful in a variety of media, Fabre creates theatrical artworks that combine his interests in the human body, insects, animals, medieval times, myth, science, and spirituality. The Years of the Hour Blue, presented 30 of his Bic-art works, a series of blue ballpoint pen pieces from the late-1970s to the early-1990s, intriguingly intermixed in the museum’s Picture Gallery with masterpieces by Rubens, Caravaggio, Titian, and other legendary artists. Offered as the final chapter in a trilogy of exhibitions juxtaposing Fabre with past European artists he’s found influential at the Royal Museum of Fine Art in Antwerp in 2006, the Louvre in Paris in 2008, and this year at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, the show took on the feeling of a treasure hunt as viewers moved from room to room finding Fabre’s art.

Installation view: Jan Fabre. The Years of the Hour Blue at the Kunsthistorischen Museum Picture Gallery, Room X Photo: KHM

Fabre’s drawings replaced paintings from the collection, hung in harmony above and below them, and even covered them completely, while his sculptural works posed jarring juxtapositions in the museum’s ornate galleries. The artist’s 1987 drawing Materialization of Language, which shows a female figure with an elongated tongue, was hung with Moretto da Brescia’s St. Justina with the Unicorn, a painting from 1530. Fabre’s 1990 The Lime Twig Man, which portrays a beekeeper, hovered above Pieter Brueghel the Elder’s The Peasant and the Nest Robber from 1568. Meanwhile, Three Claws (1987) was cleverly paired with a 17th-century painting by the Flemish master Anthony van Dyck of a regal couple with three exposed hands.

Covering a group of Peter Paul Rubens’ canvases in a room full of Rubens’ paintings—something that must have frustrated many visitors—Fabre’s massive, stitched-together Flying Rooster, a tapestry-like monochrome canvas from 1991, was arguably one of the most powerful works on exhibit, while the golden, life-size cast of the artist on a ladder measuring the clouds with a giant ruler—a bronze sculpture that was perched on the museum’s roof and out of site to most viewers—was probably the most iconic and poetic piece by the multidisciplinary artist in the show. Although not a new idea, this survey in dialogue with a collection was filled with thoughtful twists and turn, that made it a pleasure to behold.

Jan Fabre De Lijmstokman / The Lime Twig Man 1990 series: Het Uur blauw/ The Hour Blue Bic ballpoint pen on paper 
220 x 160 x 10 cm Collection C. Keirsmaerkers, Mechelen © VBK, Vienna 2010; Photo: © Angelos

Jan Fabre Materialisatie van de taal / Materialisation of Language 1987 series: Het Uur blauw/ The Hour Blue Bic ballpoint pen on paper 
1500 x 2000 mm Private Collection Courtesy Deweer Gallery, Otegem © VBK, Vienna 2010; Photo: © Angelos

Jan Fabre De Man die wolken meet/ The Man Who Measures the Clouds 1998 Bronze 285 x 120 x 80 cm, stairs 40 x 80 cm © VBK,
Vienna 2010; Photo: © Angelos Private Collection, Courtesy Gallery Guy Pieters, Sint-Martens-Latem


Paul Laster

Paul Laster is a writer, editor, curator, artist and lecturer. He’s a contributing editor at ArtAsiaPacific and Whitehot Magazine of Contemporary Art and writer for Time Out New York, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, Galerie Magazine, Sculpture, Art & Object, Cultured, Architectural Digest, Garage, Surface, Ocula, Observer, ArtPulse, Conceptual Fine Arts and Glasstire. He was the founding editor of Artkrush, started The Daily Beast’s art section, and was art editor of Russell Simmons’ OneWorld Magazine, as well as a curator at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, now MoMA PS1.



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