Warning: this is an X-rated exhibition, with representations of penises and vaginas galore, but never has “porn” been so sparkly and glamorous – so much fun!
For the first show to be held in contemporary art dealer Daniel Templon’s second Paris gallery, artist Jan Fabre has created what he terms a “kind of critical love declaration” to his country, Belgium. It is a tribute to the Belgian version of Carnival, a “feast of the flesh” where anything goes: filthy language; sexual expression and verbal attacks on royal, political and religious figures. It’s good to know this before seeing the exhibition, by the way, which rather mystified me the first time I saw it.
To create the sculptures, Fabre has transformed pre-used statues and objects picked up here and there using the same materials used for Carnival celebrations: confetti, glitter, etc. The results are spectacular, richly decorated and funny. A demure Virgin manipulates a marionette with devil’s horns dressed in the colors of the Belgian flag (black, yellow and red) and holds an upside-down book whose cover reads, “Je Suis Belge” (“I’m Belgian”), while another holds a large fish (sea creatures, especially shellfish, play a major role in the exhibition) in the colors of the flag.
An elaborate music box, “Sexy Belgian Street Organ” (2017; get it? “organ”) decorated with angels, penises, sperm and fallopian tubes plays organ-grinder music. Downstairs, each of three seashell sculptures has a penis growing out of it, one flaccid, one beginning to rise and one erect. Three starfish sculptures look innocuous until you see the back, with vagina-like openings. A sea urchin with a long, protruding red tongue (a recurring theme), wears a party hat.
On the walls are framed storybook-like color drawings of little girls emerging from shells and other underwater shenanigans in the “Belgian Sexual North Sea” series, while the “Belgian Sexual Folklore” series features mostly Carnival scenes, although one shows a picturesque view of a nun in a courtyard watering a collection of colored penises growing out of clay pots.
What to think of all this? I have admired Fabre’s work before, but I never knew Belgium was so interesting!