Eugene Laermans / Edgard Tytgat / Marthe Wery / Joelle Tuerlinckx

With the in-depth collection studies, the MDD aims to investigate the intrinsic qualities of certain artists represented in the collection. The exhibition Eugène Laermans, Edgard Tytgat, Marthe Wéry and Joëlle Tuerlinckx brought together four generations of artists, all from the Brussels region. Laermans was already successful at the end of the nineteenth century; Tuerlinckx has been active on the international art scene only in the last ten years. One hundred years of art history obviously implies great leaps in the approach to art, both by the artist and the viewer. At the same time, there are parallels, reflections, contrasts that become apparent through the ‘confrontation’ of these different oeuvres: the use of colour and space, humour, composition, ... All four are significant within the history of Belgian art, but are at the same time, in a highly individual manner, somewhat at odds with the art traditions of their time.

The starting point for this exhibition was Eugène Laermans (1864 - 1940). Together with Constantin Meunier, he is a representative of Belgian realism at the end of the nineteenth century, the oldest art movement in the collection of the MDD. His particular realist style, his choice of subject and the recuperation of his work by the Socialist Party, make that Eugene Laermans has come to be considered a social realist. However, already early on, a number of authors have suggested that the significance of the work of Laermans reaches far beyond his obvious response to the social reality of his time. The works become significant through the interplay of horizontal, vertical and diagonal lines, the balance between dull and bright colour tones, and the relationship between the characters and the pictural space. In his work, he often portrays masses of people, groups of individuals or the occasional single person in motion. His compositions with larger groups of figures possess an intensity that is both driving and alienating, characteristics that will mark Laermans as a forerunner of Flemish expressionism and a major figure in Belgian art history and.
Along with Laermans’ compositional strength, it is the relationship between the characters themselves that acquires particular significance. Often, the relationship between the depicted figures seems laden with an icy, frightening silence. The overall feeling of non-communication and the obvious suspicion and feelings of menace in the expression of the figures becomes ‘significant’ in light of the artist’s deafness which rendered him virtually incapable of communication since the age of eleven. However, this is not the general mood in all of his paintings. Some of the works reveal his pleasure of playing with embellishments, colour, with movement. There is also a certain curious voyeurism in the artist’s observations of his fellow villagers as they make conversation or gossip, or bathe in the river, or during celebrations, ...

A certain sense of voyeurism is also present in the work of Edgard Tytgat (1879 - 1957). Tytgat’s paintings reveal his love for petites histoires and the other merry details of daily life. His humour has a perverse side to it, but is never bitter. It is in this respect too self-relativizing and evidences an undeniable and incredible joie de vivre. Even Tytgat’s use of colours expresses a certain sense lightness, as if nothing is affected by gravity. In his compositions, he never sets out in search of any particularly strong image or a sense of grandeur. Tytgat handles his pictural space in an intuitive manner, often ‘bending’ the perspective in very strange ways. While Laermans worked on compositions that expressed a constant tension between movement and stillness, Tytgat is definitely more of a storyteller in the tradition of Breughel. A detail often becomes an entire story. His art tells of a beloved interior, of popular colours and motifs, of Oriental harem scenes or Sunday outings, of fairs, circuses and music halls.

Colour and architecture are the main elements in the work of Marthe Wéry (1930-2005). Influenced by Malevich, Mondrian and Barnett Newman, her work consisted mainly of monochrome paintings. Although the works appear minimalist in style, they evince both a great technical mastery of the craft and an artisanal attention to pigments. Her work, through the interplay of light and transparency, is never sterile. The panels become elements of large-scale compositions. Marthe Wéry treats the wall like a painter his canvas: every coloured panel becomes a ‘paint stroke’ in the composition. The installation of her work in the exhibition space enters into dialogue with the architecture and the other exhibited works. The result is an intense – almost sacral – experience of colour and space. In the work of Joëlle Tuerlinckx (b.1958, Brussels), the (perception of the) exhibition space often plays an important role. Joelle Tuerlinckx’ work ‘NIEUWE PROJECTEN Nouveaux Projets D.D.’ was realised in 1999 in the frame of her exhibition at the MDD. Only part of this work was installed for the in-depth study of the collection. In her work, Joëlle Tuerlinckx explores the history of the museum, the proportions of the building, the descriptions of the collection, etc. Highly subjective, personal standards underlie her works that often appear insignificant, and in which seemingly paltry details are elevated to the level of subject. The results presented to us can only be understood as reified, congealed moments in an on-going artistic process.

The exhibition ran from December 17, 2006 to February 4, 2007.

For more information, see the issue of Museum doorDacht 4.

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