Organised to coincide with the 54th edition of the Venice Biennale, the exhibition will feature five large marble sculptures by the Flemish artist, including an unprecedented reinterpretation of Michelangelo’s Pietà.

From 1st June till 16th October 2011, during the 54th edition of the Venice Biennale, the Nuova Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Misericordia (Sestiere Cannaregio 3599) will host the latest exhibition of the works of Jan Fabre (Antwerp, 1958), entitled PIETAS. Curated by Giacinto Di Pietrantonio and by Katerina Koskina and promoted by the GAMeC – Gallery of Modern and Contemporary Art, Bergamo, by the State Museum of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki, and by the Kunsthistorisches Museum of Vienna, the exhibition will present five large sculptures in pure marble and Carrara statue marble by the Flemish artist.

Outstanding among these is Fabre’s unprecedented reinterpretation of Michelangelo’s Pietà, entitled Merciful Dream (Pietà V), in which he has given his own face to Christ, while Mary has the face of a skull, the symbol of death. Yet the artist’s aim is not to convey a blasphemous or even merely a provocative message: this work represents a ‘performance sculpture’ that illustrates a mother’s real feelings when she yearns to take the place of her dead son.

All five sculptures reiterate the theme of the pietà, which Fabre has interpreted in terms of the feelings of compassion and conciliation. They depict anatomical organs and bodies that take on the form and the forcefulness of symbols in his work, which is made with the obsessive precision typical of the mediaeval Flemish school, but also relates to the vigour that abounds in Michelangelo’s sculpture.

From the point of view of form, Fabre uses the element of the brain, already a major feature in other exhibitions of his that have been held to coincide with the Venice Biennale in the past. As in 2007, with Anthropology of a Planet and in 2009 with From the Feet to the Brain, this organ – which is located anatomically in the upper area of the human body – also places a focal role in the 2011 edition, Pietas.

All five sculptures will rest on a large golden podium, which visitors will be allowed to access – once they have put on a pair of the slippers made available at eight points at the sides – so as to undertake the sacred ritual of a viewing. After visitors have been allowed up onto this podium-as-stage, they will find themselves playing the part of actors among the five white sculptures, whose leitmotif of ‘life – death – resurrection’ relates to the theme of eternal metamorphosis. To facilitate this interaction, Fabre has also arranged ten nests – one for each column – covered with shells of the jewel scarab, the animal that is a symbol of metamorphosis, was sacred to the ancient Egyptians and is now held sacred by the artist himself.

All this constitutes a path to initiation that proceeds by certain milestones. These are represented by the four sculptures of brains that act as the base-world-cosmos for as many naturalistic-Christological symbolisms, a path that ends with the sight of the neo-Michelangelo Pietà.

In this exhibition, Fabre is pondering the artistic rules underlying his own work and the limits of what he has done before now, whose basic principles can be summarised as the “awareness of the forcefulness of images of reality and of the symbolism” that can be found in the tradition of Flemish art, as it relates to its Italian counterpart, but that also pays due consideration to Fabre’s own artistic and personal history, as it has developed through the visual force of performance and theatre and emerged in the form of sculptural tableaux; in “concentration on the body, as the point of crystallisation between life, death and rebirth” and, lastly, in “attraction to the insect”, the symbol of metamorphosis situated in the brain, the locus of thought.

By once again choosing a traditional technique (marble sculpture), Fabre continues to pursue his unrelenting visionary investigation of the original practices of art, in which he shows us his ideal vision of symbolic life, revealing more clearly than ever the intentionally chosen artistic anachronism that determines his originality. Jan Fabre has always moved in the black area that is populated by extinct creatures, the area of knowledge that has been erased or sidelined, yet that crops up obsessively in his art, which is also an archetype of risk, of threat and of loss of what is personified by the artist’s solitude in life as in death: an inscrutable inner well, made of dreams and of visions for taking refuge.

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Photos by Cosmin Năsui

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Modernism.ro vă prezintă, în premieră, un serial dedicat expozițiilor pavilioanelor naționale și evenimentelor paralele și dar și a celor colaterale ale Bienalei de Artă de la Veneția, unul dintre cele mai importante evenimente europene de artă contemporană.

Mulțumim Institutului Român de Cultură şi Cercetare Umanistică de la Veneția și ICR București pentru suportul și sprijinul acordat la realizarea acestui serial.