Art in Transition

The second in the series of "Transition" shows (there will be three in all) opened at the Palais des Beaux-Arts last week. Organized by curator Dirk Snauwaert, the series features work by young Belgians considered to be on the cutting edge. Whether they are actually forging the future concerns of art in this country remains to be seen. It is nevertheless interesting to have new work by artists with little previous public exposure presented as it is here: in mini solo shows each consisting of three carefully selected pieces.

"Transition" refers not only to the passage from one generation to the next (this may seem premature, since many of Belgium's best known older artists are still waiting for international recognition), but also to the state of development of the work on view. Of the three artists, Koen Theys, 29, is perhaps the best known (he participated in the 1988 "Confrontatie" exhibition at Ghent's contemporary art museum) and his work the most satisfying both conceptually and in its material realization. Its subject is spatial cognition - the apprehension of volumes and voids through objects that are only tenuously, if at all, sculptural: a series of four photographs; a flat, etched-glass screen; a wall-mounted rubber casting of a framed window.

The last piece, mutely eloquent, holds the key to the interpretation of the other two. Although it is opaque and placed high above eye level, providing no view, its form clearly signifies "window." Similarly, the metal-framed, transparent-glass screen evokes what it is not: a picture, a window. The glass p(l)ane is inscribed with a horizontal band that reads as a balustrade. This image gives physical presence to its own support, which is implied by the frame but is visible only because of the reflections it casts. The room is therefore divided in two: in front of the etched line (read "railing"), and behind it. The nominal here literally defines the virtual.

Rather than photographing architecture, Theys constructs architectonic images from photographs. A black-and-white photograph of a sea of faces is overlaid with black orthogonals that delineate three-dimensional volumes (there are four different versions). The photograph itself is manipulated so that its image, through foreshortening and other dark-room manipulations, helps to give shape to the spaces described. Thus, a flat image of a fully dimensional scene is used to represent three-dimensional forms. The subject of the original photograph intrudes, however, into the neutral geometries it coaxes into being, making them menacing, claustrophobia-inducing places.

Sarah McFadden - THE BULLETIN