All group visits in S.M.A.K. were cancelled by COVID-19, so the guides were also out of work. Although we don't forget them: they remain born and fascinating storytellers, whether in the museum hall or this way.
May 2019: celebrating the 20th anniversary of S.M.A.K.
May 2020: I’ve been guiding in S.M.A.K. for twenty years, so should be having a celebration of my own. Unfortunately, Covid-19 disrupts the party. In stark contrast to twenty years ago, I now wander alone through the deserted city centre of Ghent. Back then, in 2000, we had ‘Over the Edges’: a true art feast that has remained in the collective memory of many an art lover, and some who aren’t. Some fifty artists placed work in the city centre. Everyone who saw the exhibition will remember Jan Fabre’s hams in the Volderstraat, the plates that Patrick Lebret hurled on the Korenlei after a marital argument, and Emilio Lopez Menchero’s Tarzan cry. As well as the more subtle works, such as Alberto Garutti’s lights on the Vrijdagmarkt, which illuminated every time a baby was born in one of Ghent’s four hospitals, and Honoré d’O’s marble that revealed an upside-down Ghent, from the Graslei and Korenlei. Everyone had read about the event in newspapers and magazines, had seen images on television and wanted to see this exhibition with their own eyes. People flocked to the event and we were allowed to guide them. I’ve no idea how many exhibitions there have been in the twenty years since, but two, both completely different, are etched in my memory.
The first is ‘Ain’t Painting a Pain’ by Richard Jackson from 2014. This included paintings, drawings and installations from the seventies until 2014. The banner on the S.M.A.K. facade and the cover of the visitor’s guide carried a photo of a 3D installation of ‘The Death of Marat’. The man, bathed in a dramatic red glow, with an email on an old Mac instead of a letter, immediately aroused my curiosity.
And it wasn’t just paint we were shooting in his interpretation of ‘La grande Jatte’ after Georges Seurat, which was great fun. Jackson’s pointillist painting was made by dipping shot pellets in paint and firing them at the canvas with a rifle. After no less than 90,000 shots it was only 10% complete. A work that is never finished.
During the opening, his painting machine was activated: a car lying on its side, the artist behind the wheel, two paintballs on the axles that were driven by the engine of a Ford Pinto. From high scaffolds, assistants poured buckets of paint over the balls. This resulted in an explosion of coloured paint on walls, ceiling and floor. After this, the traces of the performance were left in the room for the visitor to experience.
‘Stacked Paintings’, was first installed in S.M.A.K. as a spiral-shaped maze constructed from 5,050 stretched and painted canvases, which were stacked face downwards. The outer rim consisted of one canvas, then two, then three and so on. Everyone was amazed as they entered the inner space, with canvases stacked sky-high and even more colourful examples and murals on the walls.
After the exhibition, the canvases were destroyed so that they could live on in memory. On his introductory tour for the guides, Jackson said that everything you think is good turns out to be even better in the memory. You can’t relive it, except in your own head.
If Jackson’s exhibition was a fireworks display of colour, then Giovanni Anselmo’s (2005) in-depth look at the collection was pure sobriety. It was constructed using only shades of grey, off-white and ultramarine. But what power and energy. His works in the S.M.A.K. collection were supplemented with loans for the exhibition.
On each tour, I was always attracted to ‘Il panorama con mano che lo indica’, a large sheet of paper on which just a single hand, as life-like as anything, was drawn in 3D with pencil. In front of the work stood a large stone step to enable you to grab the hand, which would take you to another world.
The world of Anselmo. The Italian Arte Povera and conceptual artist for whom the ascent of the Stromboli volcano was the defining idea for his art. He reached the crater at daybreak. The rising sun, at his back, projected his shadow not on the ground, but into infinity. He also used this experience in his works. For example, he projected the word ‘invisibile’ into the space, which made the word immediately invisible. How many hands, then, did not try to catch the word in vain.
Words have come to play a major role in his oeuvre. A simple word can contain a complete idea. As with ‘tutto’. By splitting the word into tut-to. Tut-to (everything, the whole) was shown in different materials, including, for example, chiselled in stone with ‘tut’ on the front and ‘to’ on the side. The impossibility of seeing everything at once, the possibility to look further.
Perhaps that’s what we need to do now in these bizarre times. Museums should never close, we should be able to look at art, to look further. Art is hope!
Katrien De Tremerie
Besides the S.M.A.K., Katrien De Tremerie also guides at the MSK, mudel and the Raveelmuseum. In addition, she leads guided walks around the Ghent galleries and street art with Tour del’Art. She also works part time at Cultuur Gent.