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Georges Rouzeau - 2011-02-14


The Hareng Saur: Ensor and Contemporary Art exhibition is part of a series of events commemorating the 150th anniversary of the birth of James Ensor (which included the retrospective at the Musée d’Orsay in Paris until last February 2010) This exhibition is worth seeing for its large selection of works by the painter born in Ostend in 1860. The incredible variety of styles, expressions and themes of this protean artist is open to public viewing. Navigating styles from Turner to Goya, via Rembrandt, Ensor shows himself to be successively naturalist, expressionist, surrealist as well as impressionist, symbolist and fauvist. He is usually known only for his satirical, eccentric and provocative streak and his masks (The Scandalised Masks), his skeletons (Skeletons Warming Themselves) and his Christs (Christ’s entry into Brussels). However he also comes to light as a great painter of seascapes, landscapes and dunes as well as interiors. His career has embraced every genre and highlight of modernity. Ensor has influenced numerous contemporary Belgian painters, but his impact has extended further to the Germanic and Nordic countries as well as the USA.
Each room explores one of the artist’s numerous facets by exhibiting his paintings side by side with artists who either have or have not been influenced by his work. This is where the exhibition reveals its limitations: is it enough to paint skulls or wear a mask during a performance in order to be considered, de facto, part of the Ostend painter’s filiation? There are obviously other sources of artistic modernity, and Ensor represents only one of many.
Of course, several rooms are biased towards Ensor the rebel, the symbol of the conflict between the artist and society. Indeed, numerous paintings take aim at doctors, lawyers and especially the police, which managed to infuriate his contemporaries. This aspect continues to fuel the inspiration for many contemporary artists such as Raymond Pettibon, Paul Maccarty via Philip Guston and Mike Kelley who are all present on the exhibition walls. For the contemporary Belgian artist, Ensor undoubtedly remains a father figure of artistic creation, as evidenced by the works of Pierre Alechinsky, Wim Delvoye and Vincent Geyskens. The film Camping Cosmos by Jan Bucquoy (the author of the famous Sexual Life of Belgians) was directly inspired by the drawings of James Ensor, and especially by his Carnival on the beach.
Hareng saur: Ensor and Contemporary Art
Until 27th February 2011
MSK Gent (Fine Arts Museum) & SMAK
Fernand Scribedreef - 1
Citadel park
9000 Gent

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