October 10, 2013 - WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels - Walter Swennen
October 10, 2013

Walter Swennen

Walter Swennen, Super blaue Reiter, 1998. Oil on canvas. Collection Mu.ZEE, Oostende. Photo: AD-Art.

Walter Swennen
So Far So Good
5 October 2013–26 January 2014

Avenue Van Volxemlaan 354
1190 Brussel-Bruxelles, Belgium
Hours: Wednesday–Sunday 11–18h

T +32 (0)2 340 00 53


WIELS’ major survey is devoted to Walter Swennen (b. 1946, Brussels), one of the most uncompromising and experimental painters working today. Just like others in his generation he approaches and explores the medium anew by applying principles from other disciplines. After his earliest activities as a poet in the 1960s, and in the aftermath of the visually reductive conceptual art and fundamental painting, Swennen decided in the 1980s to examine the poetical possibilities of painting. The oeuvre he then rapidly developed was explicitly not characterised by the spontaneous or heroic visual language of his neo-expressionist contemporaries, but rather distinguishes itself through a deconstructivist underplaying of the prevailing codes of painting. In retrospect it is clear that Swennen is, ever since his shift from writing to painting, engaged in a steady reconnaissance of the specific problems of painting, with a preference for subtle forms of rebellion, deviation and relativising of authorship and originality: such as the marginal, the nonsensical, the understatement, the anti-climax and the tragicomical. Swennen comments on the aftermath of the ‘death of painting’ through a humorous interaction between pictorial practice and poetical communication. Whoever looks beyond the seemingly naïve and amateurish execution of his work discovers sources of inspiration as varied as comic strips, world literature and philosophy, bilingual dictionaries, advertisements, and (his) children’s drawings. Given that painting is in essence mute, Swennen demands at least as much attention to the complex material background (which remains unknowable) as to the familiar figure in the foreground. 

The exhibition So Far So Good combines a careful selection of his paintings from the early 1980s until now, as well as a selection of drawings and works on unconventional supports. It is the most comprehensive presentation of his work ever, as it consists of over 130 works loaned from 75 public and private collections in Europe. The focus of the exhibition is placed upon Swennen’s decades-long, relentless pictorial experiments and research into language, signs and motifs, and painting techniques and supports. Rather than a classic chronological organisation, the installation follows the artist’s associative and improvisational working method in order to reveal two modernist questions which have spurred Swennen on over the past three decades, however much his answers may have varied over that period: What to paint? And how?

The exhibition is organised by WIELS Brussel-Bruxelles, in collaboration with Culturgest Lisbon. With the generous support of BNP Paribas Fortis and Galerie Nadja Vilenne, Liège.

Walter Swennen
Walter Swennen (b. 1946) lives and works in Brussels. Swennen is a painter that considers every artistic gesture to be, in essence, an act of translation rather than depiction.After initially pursuing etching at the Academy in Brussels, he ended up obtaining a master’s degree in psychology. In the second half of the 1960s Swennen was actively involved in alternative collectives with a literary-artistic bent, which wrote beat poetry and organised happenings. He taught psychoanalysis at the ERG in Brussels in the late seventies. From 1981 onwards, he resolutely decided to steer clear from the all too ‘nostalgic’ poetry and devote himself entirely to painting in the here and now. 

Solo exhibitions in recent years include, amongst others, Continuer in Culturgest Lisbon (2013); Garibaldi Slept Here, Kunstverein Freiburg (2012); How To Paint A Horse, Cultuurcentrum Strombeek and De Garage, Mechelen (2008); M HKA, Antwerp (1994); Palais des Beaux-Arts de Charleroi (1991) and Palais des Beaux-Arts/Paleis voor Schone Kunsten, Brussels (1986). Notable group exhibitions include Idiolect, Arentshuis, Bruges (2009); La Belgique Visionnaire/Visionair België (Palais des Beaux-Arts/Paleis voor Schone Kunsten, Brussels, 2005); Voir en Peinture (Le Plateau, Paris, 2003); La Consolation (Le Magasin, Grenoble, 1999) and Trouble Spot. Painting (Antwerp, 1999).

A comprehensive monograph accompanies the exhibition, published by WIELS and (SIC), including texts by Walter Swennen, Quinn Latimer, Olivier Mignon & Raphaël Pirenne, Caroline Dumalin, and a preface by Dirk Snauwaert. Designed by Saskia Gevaert and published in English with French or Dutch translations. Composed of 256 pages, opening with 80 colour plates.

Complementary programme: 

Look Who’s Talking 
Talk / guided tour in the exhibition 
–16 October, 19h: Wim Van Mulders 
–13 November, 19h: Vincent Geyskens 
–27 November, 19h: Caroline Dumalin 
–18 December, 19h: Laurent Busine

Special presentations 
–6 November, 19h: Lecture Miguel Wandschneider 
–11 December, 19h: Lecture Bart Verschaffel 
–12 January 2014, 16h: conversation between Walter Swennen and Olivier Foulon 
–26 January 2014: finissage with film screenings & presentation by Raphael Pirenne

Press contact
Micha Pycke
micha.pycke [​at​] wiels.org / T +32 (0)2 340 00 51 / M +32 (0)486 680 070


Walter Swennen at WIELS, Brussels
WIELS Contemporary Art Centre, Brussels
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