The Estate of Marc Maet
When two men of the sixteenth century as widely disparate as Luther and Michelangelo turned their conversation to painting, they thought only two schools worth mentioning, the Italian and the Flemish. Luther approved of the Flemings, while Michelangelo did not; but neither considered what was produced outside these two great centers.
Erwin Panofsky’s defense of Flemish art is witty and ironic, but what is really at stake in this statement is the concept of tradition, the commingling of style, geographic location, and history. Panofsky’s sixteenth-century spokesmen believed that there were really only two styles of painting, an idea that may fill us either with nostalgia or pity, but which defines the difference between that world and our own.
Our Romantic heritage, with its emphasis on originality and defiance of convention, tells us that artists must find their own style. But where? American painters since the nineteenth century have either imitated or rejected European models because they lacked their own artistic inheritance; by contrast, a Belgian painter like Marc Maet has a tradition that is part of his language, his culture, his everyday life. Again, Panofsky provides an insight:
This shift (during the fifteenth century) of artistic activity from feudal Bourges and Dijon to the bourgeois centers of the Netherlands was conducive to local diversity, on the one hand, and to national consolidation, on the other. The very fact that even the greatest of painters were identified with established communities and subjected themselves to the rules of a strict guild system facilitated the formation of local ‘schools’ which we are still accustomed to connect with places rather than with persons, as when we speak of the schools of Tournai, Bruges, or Ghent, of Brussels, Antwerp, or Haarlem.
What happened in Northern Europe during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries is now happening everywhere. Instead of a homogeneous or universal style, we see in today’s Europe a proliferation of styles that derive from local or national traditions. A resident style is a double-edged sword: On the one hand, it provides artists with a series of aesthetic options, models to emulate; on the other, it places a burden on the individual talent, the "anxiety of influence" Harold Bloom has contributed to our critical vocabulary.
Seen strictly from the point of view of evolving style, Marc Maet embodies the process by which the individual artist appropriates a given style, adapts himself to it even as he molds it to himself, then, having achieved aesthetic identity, moves on to self-generated styles.
The use of such apparently naturalistic artifacts as Gothic windows, Romanesque columns, Classical hunting reliefs and monkey-shaped consoles for purposes of allegorical signification bears witness to a type of symbolism virtually unknown to the High Middle Ages. A non-perspectival and non-naturalistic art, not recognizing either unity of space or unity of time, can employ symbols without regard for empirical probability or even possibility.
Jan van Eyck paints naturalistic scenes in which we can identify every object, but he suffuses every centimeter of the painting with symbolic meaning. Therefore, to understand the meaning of all those objects, we must ‘read’ the painting in terms of the religious literature known to the erudite artist and his contemporaries.
Western painting, except for overt propaganda, has, since the nineteenth century, tended to subordinate explicit messages to plastic image—hence Georges Bataille’s declaration that Manet, in The Execution of Maximilian (1867), “wrung the last drop of meaning out of the subject.” Retreating, in some sense, from the void into which he has cast the content of painting, Bataille quickly adds: “To suppress and destroy the subject is exactly what modern painting does, but this does not mean that the subject is altogether absent.” However, his initial, radical statement is, in fact, true.
Marc Maet is in the forefront of those artists restoring the idea of intellectual content to the act of painting. Not explicit meaning—Maet is not seeking to communicate a particular aesthetic or political message, but to deploy “symbols without regard for empirical probability or even possibility.” Maet leaps back over time to pre-naturalistic art.
The changes that have taken place in Maet’s art from the time of the urn paintings to this collection of new paintings and drawings does not entail any notion of progress or evolution from something lesser to something greater. What Maet has discovered, again taking his cues from the tradition of ‘early Netherlandish painting’, is an affinity for seeing nature as a vast book and art as an act by which thought becomes visual images. Whose thought? Maet’s, certainly, but Maet’s rethinking of the ancient tradition given to him by his culture.
Four Moons and The Mouth of the Sky take us beyond allegories explicitly related to the Christian experience and bring us face to face with the concept of liminality, the moment in human life when transition to a higher state of existence is at hand, when there must be a terrifying instant of chaos before we are reconstituted. By the same token, both these paintings allude to Flemish landscape painting, with the difference that the eye here is turned upward toward the night sky and not on plains and mountains.
Marc Maet’s new paintings confront us with the artist meditating on his own act of creation. To create, in an Existentialist sense, is to be; but to finish a painting is, metaphorically, to die. Creation entails sacrifice: Just as the early saints would withdraw to the desert to purify themselves, the artist withdraws from society to paint. The result in both cases is, or should be, a transfiguration. The man or woman becomes one of the blessed; the artist becomes the work of art. The new paintings represent the creative act, which ordinarily we do not witness. In that moment, the work of art comes into existence, takes its place in a tradition, and attains a life of its own. The living, mortal artist is left behind.
We know the artist through his work, which is the artist insofar as we are concerned. Communication between us is limited, the medium unfit for direct contact. Thus it is that we achieve communion, if not communication, with the artist by appropriating his work. He comes alive, changed in meaning if not in image, in our mind’s eye. This is why Maet often inscribes the word est (he, she, or it “is”) backward in his paintings: We look at the paintings and they look back at us. They express an intention, which we make ours through interpretation. We are what we see through Marc Maet’s paintings.
Marc Maet is revitalizing his culture by simultaneously preserving and changing it. He is the individual artist and, at the same time, he is many generations of artists. The future, Maet shows us, leads to yesterday as well as to tomorrow.
Alfred MacAdam, 1990
Doublé en pleine puissance picturale by Claude Lorent | La Libre
Double Bill of Full-Blown Pictorial Power Two important solo exhibitions at Roberto Polo Gallery in Brussels, one of works by Marc Maet from the 80’s and 90’s, the other of recent, heretofore unseen, work by Michaël de Kok. Upon being awarded the 1983 Prix de l’Europe de Peinture in Ostend, before long, Marc Maet enjoyed not just increasing national success, which had been building for a while anyway, but also a surge of international recognition, as he was subsequently invited to the São Paulo biennial and found himself a major gallery in New York. Against the tide of all conceptual and installationist tendencies in force at the time, he pursued fundamental pictorial research, questioning modernity, while including it in his work, in a spirit of both critical contemplation and prospective research. With him there was no question of post-modernity. Quite the opposite, as he was working on patterns (repetition of images, print, word usage, the use of various materials...) developed in collaboration with a number of renowned contemporary artists, and took it upon himself to pursue research in these creative directions and processes. In fact, he maintained his open, experimental approach to his pictorial practice, which was, however, pushed aside by a number of less than perspicacious decision makers who were unresponsive to the deeper reflection and the idiosyncrasy such an approach entailed. So, as he had announced earlier, in 1992, Jan Hoet went on to exclude him from Documenta. Non-Conformist Pictorial Quality The present exhibition at Roberto Polo Gallery focuses precisely on Marc Maet’s works from 1988 to 1995. They reveal the scope and power of a pictorial language that is not content with creating an original, albeit abstract image but also takes advantage of the pictorial potential it generates to conjure up maximal expressivity and power. His own, very expressionist, earlier personal experiences, and his analytic view of the least formal type of modernity have contributed amply to this uncompromising engagement. Besides the idiosyncratic quality of every single one of them and their integration in the progression of an audacious, non-conformist modernity, as a whole the pictures at the exhibition exude a quite touching vigour, a manifest energy, a reflexion on the foundation of pictorial quality and hence a kind of suggestive beauty that shakes up established orthodoxies. What we are facing here is painting at the highest standard. Landscapely Emotions A very different atmosphere emanates from the paintings by Michaël de Kok, who having presented us two years ago with a series of ethereal landscapes, is back with a series of abstract paintings. We are once more facing all the chromatic subtlety of his earlier landscapes, only this time it is as if he has only allowed impressions onto his canvases, and has erased all reminders of his figurative subject. He is inviting us to experience and feel what he must have perceived emotionally on contact with a generous natural environment. He is translating these perceptions chromatically into stretches of paint that are so subtly treated they hardly materialise. These paintings are like atmospheres, the minute nuances of what may impregnate us in moments of personal and intense harmony with nature. Their dominant features and juxtapositions, and especially the edges, with their floating, mist-like nuances, transpose a range of persistent, even invasive impressions and the magic of these too ephemeral instants. By presenting us with these colour fields, he is inviting us to look, in order to share with us and convince us that painting, like music, can pervade and transport us just as much as would the magnificence of a landscape or the depth of a feeling. Claude Lorent “Michaël de Kok does not paint after nature. [...] He relies on memory and his recollections only to refresh a unique past and create a new present” Flor Bex, 2014 Marc Maet, Kristal IV, 1994, acrylic and rose on canvas (above). Marc Maet, Passion, 1990, acrylic and polyester on canvas, 130 x 100 cm. Courtesy Roberto Polo Gallery. Practical info Marc Maet I Passion and Michaël De Kok I Light. Roberto Polo Gallery, 8-12 rue Lebeau, 1000 Brussels. Until 19 March. Tuesdays to Fridays 14.00 – 18.00, Saturdays and Sundays 11.00 – 18.00. www.robertopologallery.com Michaël de Kok, Light 16, 2016, oil on canvas, 150 x 180 cm. Courtesy Roberto Polo Gallery. Michaël de Kok. Born in 1958 in Hilvarenbeek, The Netherlands. Lives and works in Tilburg (NL). Has been exhibited regularly since he beginning of the 80’s. Was a guest at the Bertrand Delacroix Gallery in New York in 2012. Marc Maet. Born in Schoten (Belgium) in 1955. Studies at the Ghent Royal Academy of Fine Arts and went on to become a teacher. He suffered from physical and psychological troubles and ended his life on 19 June 2000. Exhibited in Belgium, for instance at Ponton Temse (Jan Hoet, 1990), in Athens, São Paulo (biennial) and New York. He was selected by Barbara Rose to participate in Painting After Postmodernism I Belgium - USA. This is his second solo exhibition at Roberto Polo Gallery.
Marc Maet | Critique à l’encontre des papes de l’art, by Eric Bracke | De Morgen
English translation Posthumous exhibition of last paintings of Marc Maet Critique on Art Popes He was said to have been crushed when the late Jan Hoet dropped him. But the paintings Marc Maet (1955-2000) made in the years before he stepped out of life remain extraordinarily captivating. The Brussels Roberto Polo Gallery rightly thought them worthy of a retrospective and a book publication. Eric Bracke The Aftermath, Marc Maet until 23/3 at the Roberto Polo Gallery, Lebeaustraat 8, 1000 Brussels (www.robertopologallery.com). “All the paintings I have made, are yours. Do with them what you want, but make sure they don’t fall into the hands of the many vultures and dung flies that permeate the art world. If you are very angry with me – and there is every reason you should be – then burn them.” This is what Marc Maet wrote in a farewell letter to his wife. The man from Bruges who stuck around in Ghent after his studies was a sensitive soul, but he also suffered a lot of physical pain. So perhaps it was not just the lack of recognition in the art world that led this gifted artist – in the summer of 2000, a few days before his 45th birthday – to end his life. The development of Marc Maet ran somewhat parallel to that of his Ghent-born friend Philippe Vandenberg, who also took his own life in 2009. As a young artist, Marc Maet was widely praised. He was invited to exhibitions in Athens, the Biennial of São Paulo and New York. Museums bought his canvases and he became known as a passionate teacher at the Academy in Ghent. But the fact that painting was barely given any attention and was forced to give way to installations and conceptual art started to eat at him. Today, however, painting is back, which is more than evident in this posthumous exhibition Aftermath with paintings by Maet from the 1990s at the Roberto Polo Gallery. The work shown at the Brussels gallery belongs to Maet’s last period. Initially, Maet adhered to a spontaneous, neo-expressionist painting style, which he abandoned in the eighties in favour of a more Neue Wilde-like attitude. Maet was disturbed by the fact that painting had to give way to installations and conceptual art This movement heralded a heavily brushed return to figuration in response to the often cool and intellectualized conceptual art and strict minimalism. In Maet’s work, this approach evolves into a painterly reflection on modern art from Vincent van Gogh onward, in which words and literary fragments play an important role as well. Maet situated himself at the centre of a web of influential artists, including his countrymen René Magritte and Marcel Broodthaers, whom he openly quoted in his work. In addition to being a personally coloured response to the modern canon of art, it is also a critique of the prevailing politics in art. This becomes immediately obvious as one enters the Roberto Polo Gallery. The eye catcher is Maet’s version of Picasso's Guernica. At the top, the monumental canvas, painted in shades of brown and black contours, bears the title Kleine Guernica op vrijdag visdag (Small Guernica on Friday Fish Day) (1999). We see a dynamic composition with arms, legs and hands, embellished with icons that refer to Magritte and other artists: the skull as a vanitas symbol, a pipe, a hand mirror, a candle, a mask, a large mussel shell, a high heel ladies’ shoe... Maet, so it seems, is not depicting the devastation of the attack on innocent civilians, but rather the small war that rages inside him. Eyeballs The icons he has strewn across the image plane reappear in other paintings as well. This is also the case in De onthoofde schilder (The decapitated painter) (1997), which presents a person lying on the chopping block with his hands tied on his back. The symbols form a vocabulary whose meaning nonetheless remains hidden. At times, background knowledge can provide clues, as with the painting of two hares sitting above the written question, moeten de beelden nog aan de hazen worden verklaard? (must the pictures still be explained to the hares?) (1998). Maet here undoubtedly comments on a performance by Joseph Beuys from 1965, in which the German artist was seen walking from artwork to artwork with a dead hare in his arms, muttering unintelligible explanations. Maet provokes reflection by painting a skull between the two facing hares. His works demand to be read with a slow, inquisitive gaze, much like the one that characterised the artist himself. He often paints eyeballs on the canvas, using dotted lines to indicate viewing directions. In the publication The Aftermath, Ann M. Dijkstra writes that Maet is fascinated by a verse by Paul Valéry: ‘Je me voyais me voir, sinueuse, et dorais’. I saw myself looking at myself, acquires an autonomous meaning in his work. According to him, the painting looks back as the artist creates it; later, it looks back at the exhibition visitor as well. There is something uncanny about it. Maet situated himself amidst influential artists, including Magritte and Broodthaers Who was Marc Maet? 1955: Born in Schoten decided to become an artist after seeing modern art at a school friend’s house studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Ghent 1982: won the Europe Prize for Painting in Ostend 1990: work is shown at Ponton Temse, Jan Hoet’s preparatory exhibition for the Documenta in Kassel in 1992. Maet is ultimately not selected for Kassel. his American gallery runs into financial trouble because of the Gulf War 1994: work is shown in Ric Urmel’s gallery in Ghent, which however quickly closes its doors after a hopeful start suffers increasingly more health problems in the course of the 90s commits suicide in 2000 Image on the left page: Must the pictures still be explained to the hares?, 1998. Here, Maet comments on a performance by Beuys from 1965, in which the German artist was seen walking around with a dead hare in his arms while muttering unintelligible explanations. Images on the right page: Image1: Diary of a painter II, 1995. Image2: Small Guernica on Friday Fish Day, 1999. A dynamic composition with arms, legs and hands, embellished with icons that refer to Magritte and other artists: the skull as a vanitas symbol, a pipe, etc. Image3: The decapitated painter, 1997. The headless painter also shows icons strewn across the picture plane. They form a vocabulary whose meaning remains hidden. Traduction en français Exposition posthume des derniers tableaux de Marc Maet Critique à l’encontre des papes de l’art Il ne se serait jamais remis du coup que le regretté Jan Hoet lui avait porté après l’avoir laissé tomber. Cependant, les tableaux que réalisa Marc Maet (1955-2000) durant les années précédant son suicide restent singulièrement captivants. A juste titre, la galerie bruxelloise Roberto Polo Gallery lui consacre une rétrospective et un livre. Eric Bracke The Aftermath, Marc Maet Jusqu’au 23/3 à Roberto Polo Gallery, Rue Lebeau 8, 1000 Bruxelles (www.robertopologallery.com). « Tous les tableaux que j’ai réalisés sont pour toi. Fais-en ce que tu voudras, mais veille à ce qu’ils ne tombent pas entre les mains des nombreux charognards et mouches à merde qui peuplent le petit monde de l’art. Si tu es très en colère contre moi – et les raisons ne manquent pas –alors brûle-les.» Voilà ce qu’écrivit Marc Maet dans une lettre d’adieu à sa femme. Le Brugeois qui s’était installé à Gand après ses études. Il était doté d’une âme sensible et souffrait de douleurs physiques. Sans doute le manque de reconnaissance dans le circuit artistique n’a-t-il pas à lui seul poussé au suicide ce jeune artiste talentueux durant l’été 2000, à peine quelques jours avant ses 45 ans. La vie de Marc Maet montre plusieurs points de ressemblance avec celle de son ami gantois Philippe Vandenberg, qui se suicida également en 2009. En tant que jeune artiste, Marc Maet fut porté aux nues. Les invitations pour des expositions à Athènes, la Biennale de São Paulo et New York s’enchaînaient. Les musées achetaient ses tableaux et à l’Académie de Gand, il se fit connaître comme un chargé de cours passionné. Mais simultanément il fut rongé par le fait que la peinture était de plus en plus tenue à l’écart au profit des installations et de l’art conceptuel. Aujourd’hui, la peinture a fait son retour, ce que vient illustrer l’exposition posthume Aftermath avec des tableaux de Maet des années 1990 dans la Roberto Polo Gallery. L’œuvre exposée dans la galerie bruxelloise appartient à la dernière période de Maet. A l’origine, Maet s’inscrit dans une peinture spontanée, néo-expressionniste, avant de travailler dans le sillage des Neue Wilde dans les années 1980. Maet était rongé par le fait que la peinture était de plus en plus tenue à l’écart au profit des installations et de l’art conceptuel. Ce courant entama à force coups de brosse un retour à la figuration, en réaction à l’art conceptuel et le minimalisme mesuré parfois ressentis comme froid et intellectualiste. Chez Maet, cette approche évolua vers une réflexion picturale sur l’art moderne à partir de Vincent van Gogh, où les mots et les fragments littéraires venaient exiger un rôle important. Maet se situa lui-même parmi des artistes influents, tels que ses compatriotes René Magritte et Marcel Broodthaers, qu’il cite ouvertement dans son œuvre. Hormis une réaction personnelle au canon moderne de l’art plastique, il s’agit aussi d’une critique non voilée de la politique de l’art. D’emblée, c’est ce que vous comprenez en entrant dans la Roberto Polo Gallery. Le tableau qui accroche le regard est sans conteste la version de Maet du Guernica de Picasso. Le tableau monumental, peint dans des teintes de marron aux contours noirs, est intitulé (dans la partie du dessus) « Kleine Guernica op vrijdag visdag (1999) » (Petite Guernica un vendredi maigre). Nous voyons une composition dynamique avec des bras, des jambes et des mains, enrichie d’icônes renvoyant à Magritte et autres artistes : le crâne comme symbole de la vanité, une pipe, un miroir à main, une bougie, un masque, une coquille de moule, un soulier de femme à haut talon,… : Maet semble non pas fixer les ravages d’une attaque sur d’innocents civils, mais la petite guerre qui sévit en lui-même. Globes oculaires Les icônes qui hantent la surface de son tableau reviennent dans d’autres tableaux. Ainsi, on en retrouve dans « De onthoofde schilder » (le Peintre décapité) (1997) qui est agenouillé sur le billot, les mains liés dans le dos. Les symboles forment un vocabulaire dont le sens reste mystérieux. Parfois, il suffit de connaître le contexte, comme dans le tableau des deux lièvres sous lesquels se trouve la question : les images doivent-elles encore être expliquées aux lièvres ? (1998). Maet commente ici, à n’en pas douter, une performance de Joseph Beuys de 1965 où l’artiste allemand déambula d’une œuvre d’art à l’autre en tenant dans les bras un lièvre mort et en murmurant une explication incompréhensible. Maet incite aussi à réfléchir en interposant un crâne entre les lièvres qui se font face. Ses œuvres exigent un regard lent, inquisiteur, qui caractérisait également l’artiste. Il peignait souvent des globes oculaires sur la toile, où les pointillés indiquaient le sens du regard. Dans le livre, The Aftermath, Ann M. Dijkstra écrit que Maet était fasciné par un vers de Paul Valéry: « Je me voyais me voir, sinueuse, et dorais ». Se regarder soi-même reçoit chez l’artiste un sens autonome. Selon lui, le tableau renvoie le regard, alors que l’artiste le réalise et plus tard, le tableau interroge aussi le visiteur de l’exposition. Cela tient du mystère Maet se situa lui-même parmi des artistes influents tels Broodthaers et Magritte Qui était Marc Maet? 1955: né à Schoten décida de devenir artiste après avoir vu de l’art moderne chez un copain d’école Il étudia à l’Académie Royale des Beaux-Arts à Gand 1982: emporte le prix de l’Europe de Peinture à Ostende 1990: son oeuvre est exposée à Ponton Temse, l’exposition préparatoire de Jan Hoet pour Documenta 1992 à Kassel. Maet n’est en fin de compte pas sélectionné pour Kassel. A cause de la guerre du Golfe, sa galerie américaine connaît des ennuis financiers 1994: son œuvre est exposée à la galerie gantoise de Rik Ummel qui, après des débuts prometteurs, doit assez rapidement fermer les portes. Il a de plus en plus de problèmes de santé au cours des années ‘90 En finit avec la vie en 2000 Image de la page de gauche: Les images doivent-elles encore être expliquées aux lièvres?, 1998. Maet commente ici une performance de Beuys de 1965. L’artiste allemand déambula avec un lièvre mort en murmurant une explication incompréhensible. Images de la page de droite: Image1: Journal d'un peintre II, 1995 Image2: Petite Guernica, un vendredi maigre,1999. Une composition dynamique avec bras, jambes et mains, enrichie d’icônes renvoyant à Magritte et autres artistes: le crâne comme symbole de la vanité, une pipe, etc. Image3: Le peintre décapité, 1997 Egalement dans «le peintre décapité», des icônes hantent la surface du tableau et constituent un vocabulaire dont le sens reste enveloppé de mystère.
PAINTING AFTER POSTMODERNISM BELGIUM - USA Curated by Barbara Rose
9/15/2016 - 11/13/2016
Vanderborght & Cinema Galeries | The Underground
MARC MAET | THE AFTERMATH
1/21/2014 - 3/23/2014
Rue Lebeau 8-12
Marc Maet | Passion
2/3/2017 - 3/19/2017
Rue Lebeau 8-12
Passion, 1990, acrylic and polyester on canvas, 130 x 100 cm