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

Le Point Zero: Philippe Vandenberg

Angel Orensanz Foundation | Center for the Arts
172 Norfolk Street (Between Stanton & E. Houston)
New York, NY 10002

Friday, March 28th 6pm to 9pm
With a performance by Les Frères Zarakoff

“I am as free as I decide myself; as a painter I don’t have to justify myself nor do I have to consider other people.”
Philippe Vandenberg, Painting as a challenge, 1984.

The solo exhibition Le Point Zero celebrates the introduction of one of Belgium’s most prominent contemporary painters to New York: Philippe Vandenberg. Recently on view in The Visions Come exhibition at the NADA Fair in Miami and as part of the group show Bad Moon Rising at San Francisco’s Silverman Gallery, Vandenberg shows in New York after more than 20 years.

Le Point Zero
, Vandenberg’s first solo exhibition in New York since 1986, is organized by the independent curator Jan Van Woensel as part of the Armory’s VIP Program for 2008, and with the generous support of Al Orensanz.

Philippe Vandenberg has been an influential spirit in the art world for more than 30 years. Although various themes and periods in the artist’s oeuvre are manifest in the exhibition, Le Point Zero is not primarily aimed at presenting an historically linear overview; rather, the exhibition intends to instigate new visual and conceptual relationships among paintings from many stages in the painter’s development.


Le Point Zero is an exhibition about stagnation: the agonizing moment of artistic interruption or writers block. The exhibition shows how, at the same time, this distressing zero degree is a crucial landmark that foregoes mobility and progress.
Metaphorically, the artist compares the act of painting with the kamikaze, and he obsessively scrawls L’important c’est le Kamikaze on a series of large-scale canvasses. Vandenberg continuously pushes his work to its most critical point, its ultimate deadline: the moment when the painting transcends and escapes the painter in order to fulfill its own potential. In one of his early writings the artist muses that There is no emergency exit. It is exactly this expression of his enduring confrontation with the frantic need to paint that makes Philippe Vandenberg one of today’s most notable and committed artists.

While Vandenberg’s works employ a symbolism that is to many controversial and disturbing, the essence of each artwork is introspective and a-political. Vandenberg uses symbols and written statements as traps to create tensions in the painting as well as in our judgment and appreciation of the painting. These gestures act like agitators or errors that deconstruct, or at least disturb the much-liked virtuosity of the painting. Such tensions are essential to secure mobility; whether or not they do so successfully, they function as erratic attempts to safeguard the painter from artistic stagnation.

Le Point Zero: Philippe Vandenberg
challenges the viewer to approach painting from a sensitive and personal point of view, as seen through the eyes of the painter who sometimes rises in glory and at other times fails and temporarily retreats. Le Point Zero attempts to elaborate on the a-sensational nature of painting, by exposing the zero degree in the artistic process: the void in which the painter finds himself after the painting has transcended, or when it fails to transcend. [JVW]


“The decision to stop painting can be the most important moment in the whole creative process.” Philippe Vandenberg, Painting as a challenge, 1984.

Philippe Vandenberg
By Susan Canning

Dichotomies abound in Philippe Vandenberg’s paintings. Lyrical color abuts stitches of line; angular fractal forms co-exist with flat plane and scrawled letters, suggesting equivalencies. Large panels layered with paint launch illusory, evocative spaces only to be interrupted or contradicted by texts and brought down to earth by the insistent rhythm of flat pattern. Words and phrases, repeated in lines like mantras, revel in poetic incantation, becoming form while articulating desire. But, even as such narratives dance into public consciousness, becoming a bit too familiar, too filled with meaning, they are exaggerated, blown up, inverted, crossed out, painted over, their revelatory offer of legibility withheld and forced to slink back into obsessive mutter. Rectilinear planes that might serve as the arena for abstract flights of fantasy just as easily conceal and obscure. Or congealed into mottled clogs of black and grey paint, they wander across the canvas in search of a place where they might plead their cause or make a connection. Line too bends to the artist’s obstinate will to form, tracing the random thought, circling back to mark a junction, describe a system, add a pattern, make a point. Again and again the ever present brush bleeds onto the always ready canvas marking the hesitant or insistent journey of the artist’s hand, tracing the anguished or angry or observant or lyrical ramblings and critical inquiries of the artist’s mind, just one more scheme of enunciation, and like the letters and words, a description of figure and ground whose order, repetition, arrangement might put forward meaning, might tell a tale, might make a statement. But then again in Vandenberg’s contrary universe, it might not


For just as quickly these fields of color and shape, these jumbles of words and line lose their sensuous allure, and the canvas becomes a battlefield with the artist taking a suicidal plunge into the heart of darkness. Loaded symbols or confrontational statements disrupt the desire to perceive only pleasure, to be soothed or transformed. Instead Vandenberg pits himself against public taste and the viewer’s good will, daring rejection while asking for approval. Assuming a recalcitrant stance, he challenges any aesthetic appreciation, repeating and repeating again these signs of hate and speech patterns of terror, so that try as one might, one cannot overlook or see beyond.

Throughout argumentative systems of representation and discourse compete for attention, setting up a dialectic of oppositional tactics that transform the artist’s limpid and aggressive expression into contrary and contemplative paintings that continue to challenge and confound. The divided loyalties and doubled vision of this painter is perhaps related to Belgium, itself an amalgam of identities and a place where heritage and territory have nourished both fanaticism and a painting tradition that melds sensuous realism with spiritual devotion. Like the place he is from, Philippe Vandenberg’s paintings and the contrary space they inhabit offer no easy solutions, only anguish and the hope for transcendence.

Susan Canning is an independent curator and art critic, based in New York, USA.

Jan Van Woensel

Jan Van Woensel is an independent curator, art critic and musician based in Brooklyn, NY. He is the curatorial advisor of Lee Ranaldo and Leah Singer and curator of Studio Philippe Vandenberg. Van Woensel is professor at CCA, dept of Curatorial Practice in San Francisco; Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles; and NYU, dept of Art and Art Professions in New York. Office Jan Van Woensel, a team of assistant curators supervised by Van Woensel, works with international clients such as private collectors, art galleries and artists on exhibitions. Contact: 

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