De Bruyckere’s work has many layers of meaning. She often makes reference to literature, classical mythology or art history, and in particular to Christian iconography. She takes this poetic old iconography out of its strictly religious context and allows it to touch on topical, tangible subjects like universal human suffering, refugee problems, violence or loneliness. Personal emotions and experiences are reflected in bigger social trends. De Bruyckere interprets these themes in raw, compelling sculptures, installations and drawings, which draw strength from vulnerability and tenderness in the face of relentlessness. Her sculptures often have a long and complex creative history. Much of her work is constructed of materials like wax, resin, rope, hides and blankets, which she sometimes exposes to the elements for years before incorporating them into her art.

In this exhibition, De Bruyckere is taking new steps on her artistic path, in search of the meaning of humanity, physicality, suffering and vitality. These themes have a universal significance, but they also gain extra urgency in times when, prompted by an unprecedented pandemic, the need for human connection is greater than ever, while at the same time the body has become a danger to mankind.

The monumental new works Arcangelo and Sjemkel, which have never been exhibited before, are inspired by the idea of an angel, as portrayed in myths, stories, literature and art history. Conceived in the loneliness and isolation of the corona crisis, these works are metaphors for the angels that protect us from a lonely existence and, even more importantly, from a lonely death. The angels’ warm, dark wings provide protection and form a refuge from fear. It is a wonderful example of the fragile line De Bruyckere treads between artistic poeticism and engagement with current affairs.

Berlinde De Bruyckere
De Bruyckere’s career got off to a flying start when she was awarded the Young Belgian Art Prize in 1989, three years after graduating. Since then, her artistry has been honoured by solo exhibitions all over the world and several awards. She has participated twice in the Venice Biennale: in 2003 in the main pavilion, and in 2013 when she represented Belgium in collaboration with Nobel Prize winner J.M.Coetzee. The Bonnefanten is proud to be able to present an artist of such great international standing. Her work bears the narrative, iconographic hallmark that is characteristic of artists of the Southern Netherlands. By tradition, the Bonnefanten represents the main protagonists in this region, including such artists as Mark Manders, Laure Prouvost and Otobong Nkanga.

The exhibition is accompanied by an artist’s book, published by Mercatorfonds in collaboration with the Bonnefanten, entitled Engelenkeel. It includes texts by Erwin Mortier, Zbigniew Herbert and Stijn Huijts. The book is available in Dutch and English from the Bonnefanten museum shop and online bookshops. ISBN: 978-94-6230-318-8.