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Art & artists

Making waves – art and the sea

— August 2015

Article read level: Art lover

Associated media

Henri Victor Wolvens (1896–1977), Zeezicht (Sea view)

A celebration of art about the sea is also a memorial for Jan Hoet, Belgium’s ‘art pope’

The Sea – Hommage à Jan Hoet by Melanie Deboutte

Artists from recent and less recent art history connected only by their engagement with the sea are brought together in this exhibition and its accompanying publication.

The publication is a very eclectic mix as one would expect from the concept and is held together simply as a collection of very interesting and engaging works. There does seem to be a curatorial anxiety about not leaving anything out of this collection. The only common link between all of them is provided by the sea itself. These are interspersed with a collection of essays including by the Director of Mu.Zee, Phillip Van den Bossche and the late Jan Hoet, who conceived the exhibition.

There is something of the nature of the sea in this all-embracing show and publication and the energy of Jan Hoet has been embodied in the result. For anyone drawn to the sea as metaphor or direct visceral experience this book has much to offer through its breadth even if not so much depth. Probably the first project of its kind to bring together such a fascinating collection of artists – all in one boat.This book is a tribute to the Belgian ‘art pope’, curator Jan Hoet, and accompanies the recent exhibition of the same name held at Mu.Zee in Ostend.

The essays reflect the key concerns of the show, the first is titled , ‘A Collection of Shells’ by Van de Bossche, is both tribute to Hoet and introduction to the show and is followed by the inevitable, ‘Foam on Canvas’ about European conceptual artist Marcel Broodthaers   and written by Frank Maes. The essays then shift with the next about ‘Working with Panamarenko’ by Hans Theys and then Celine Flecheux writing a fascinating piece about Courbet, ‘The Wave and the horizon’, which examines pieces by Courbet and photographer Gustave le Gray. The final essay by Melanie Deboutte is titled ‘Of Ebb and Flood’ and is essentially a round-up of the exhibition, which, given the wide-ranging selection is fairly descriptive but useful. The whole publication is well served by a comprehensive list of works and the range and quality of the illustrations from the show is excellent.

Jan Hoet was behind the planning for the show, which was to be his last major exhibition. Sadly, on 27 February 2014 he died. He had focused on this project until the very last weeks of his life. In his last days, Hoet handed the project over to Mu.ZEE’s director, Philip Van den Bossche, and a small team of curators, who assembled a show of over 200 works in the museum and site-specific installations across town. The exhibition thus grew from a tribute to the sea into an hommageto Jan Hoet.

The Sea – Hommage à Jan Hoet by Melanie Deboutte, Celine Flecheaux, Jan Hoet, Frank Maes, Hans Theys,  Phillip van den Bossche Graphic Design by Studio Luc Derycke is published by Hatje Cantz Verlag. 320pp. English/German, 297 illus, £45.00 (hbk). ISBN 978-3-7757-3953-5


Howard Hollands
Middlesex University, UK.
Art historian, artist and teacher

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