Exhibition | Sweet 18: Contemporary Art, Fashion, and Design

Posted in exhibitions by Editor on February 14, 2015


Kasteel d’Ursel at Hingene (Bornem), Belgium.
Photo from Wikimedia Commons, 4 May 2009.

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Press release for the exhibition:

Sweet 18: Contemporary Art, Fashion, and Design Inspired by the 18th Century
Kasteel d’Ursel, Hingene, Belgium, 1 May — 5 July 2015

Curated by Luisa Bernal, Dieter Van Den Storm, Wim Mertens, Tamara Berghmans, and Hélène Bremer

This spring the former summer residence of the aristocratic d’Ursel family will be the setting for the exhibition Sweet 18, presenting the 18th century through the eyes of fifty contemporary designers, artists, and fashion designers—from Erwin Olaf and Wim Delvoye to Walter van Beirendonck and Philippe Starck.

Jessica Harrison, Painted Lady.

Jessica Harrison, Painted Lady (10), found ceramic, enamel paint, 22 x 17 x 13cm, 2014.

We all have somewhere in our minds the same images of the 18th century: wigs and hooped petticoats, towering hairstyles and elegant furniture, fine porcelain on lavishly decked tables, sensual portraits and frivolous paintings. The 18th century was the time of the Enlightenment and of the flowering of the arts and sciences. But it also created a playful, artificial world for aristocrats wanting to escape reality and immerse themselves in fantasy. A charmed world of pleasure, abundance, and voluptuousness, of pastel tints and curlicues, a world that inspires many an artist to this day. Spreading themselves over all three floors of the castle, these artists will show you the 18th century as you have never seen it before.

Sweet 18 has been brought together by the following team of curators: Luisa Bernal (art), Dieter Van Den Storm (design), Wim Mertens (fashion), Tamara Berghmans (photography) and Hélène Bremer (art).

Ode to Marie Antoinette

Whether it be for her extravagant lifestyle, influential fashion sense or her tragic death, French Queen Marie-Antoinette still speaks to our imagination. Director Sofia Coppola’s film spear- headed the revival. For pop stars like Madonna and Beyoncé, she is also a powerful icon. German illustrator Olaf Hajek gives his own take on her in the Black Antoinette series while top Dutch photographer Erwin Olaf offers up a gory portrait of the queen: beheaded.

Exuberant Fashion

Walter Van Beirendonck. Foto: Ronald Stoops

Walter Van Beirendonck. Foto: Ronald Stoops

The extravagant wardrobe of Marie-Antoinette is the springboard for many a contemporary fashion designer: from the minimalism of Japanese Yohji Yamamoto and eccentricity of German Bernhard Willhelm to French fashion houses Nina Ricci and Thierry Mugler. American artist Yasemen Hussein recreates one of her wigs in metal, and English milliner Stephen Jones is inspired by her to create his evocative hats. The outsized dresses, tight corsets, and tailored jackets of Belgian designers Walter Van Beirendonck and Olivier Theyskens also sample the 18th century.

Transparent Plastic en Burnt Wood

Dutch designer Hella Jongerius immersed herself in the archives of the German porcelain manufactory Nymphenberg to come up with plates which combine hand-painted patterns and little sculptured animals, all done in 18th-century style. Designer Maarten Baas literally set fire to a number of antique chairs before reworking them in lacquer. His Smoke Chair has become a classic. Even more famous is French star designer Philippe Starck’s Ghost Chair, which references a Louis XV chair in a pared-down, transparent design. Spanish designer Jaime Hayon’s lounge chair and an outlandish seat by British designer Nina Saunders also find a home in the exhibition. One absolute high point is L’ornement jamais by Swiss designer Philippe Cramer, an outstanding piece of pine furniture executed in 18th-century style and partially dipped in liquid gold.

Deformed Status Symbols

The fine china of Meissen, Sèvres, and Wedgwood remains to this day an inexhaustible source of inspiration. The sculptural groups of American artist Chris Antemann may look like replicas but reveal themselves on closer inspection to be rather wicked tableaux, full of forbidden fruit. British artist Jessica Harrison makes superficially sweet female figurines that are actually hideously mutilated, with their deformed heads and coloured tattoos. With War and Pieces, Dutch ceramicist Bouke de Vries offers a modern interpretation of the extravagant banquets that were thrown the night before a battle. British artist Amy Hughes’s Trésor découvert suggests treasure that has been lying buried for centuries under that same battlefield, treasure that has lost its gleam but has a story of the past and its rediscovery to tell.

Fêtes Galantes

In Stavronikita Project Austrian photographer Andreas Franke recreates 18th-century festivities. By situating them in the unusual setting of a sunken ship he emphasises the beauty that underlies decadence and decline. The tableaux of Canadian artist Ray Caesar border on the surreal, while the work of English painter Patrick Hughes plays games with the laws of perspective.

Pastoral Scenes

Richard Saja

Richard Saja

Nothing is more typical of the 18th-century domestic interior than ‘toile de Jouy’, cotton wall- coverings depicting scenes of rural life. American artist Richard Saja pimps its little cowherds into clowns or punks, while the French Collectif Ensaders transforms them into figures of fantasy and Virginie Broquet gives them an erotic spin. Scottish design studio Timourous Beasties substitutes its idyllic villages with views of the London skyline, while French artist Joël Ducorroy reduces it to its bare essentials. American Beth Katleman brings toile de Jouy wallpaper to life in a vast 3D construction, introducing flea market finds into her installation to accentuate the strangeness of the effect.

Lavish Finery

British artist Jo Taylor translates the extravagant stucco ornament of the grand 18th-century house into three-dimensional porcelain objects. American Molly Hatch’s porcelain plates, when set together, form a landscape painting covering an entire wall. Taking as her inspiration the bizarre wigs of the French court, English artist Kathy Dalwood turns
casts of utilitarian objects into plaster portrait busts.

Made in Belgium

Belgian artists easily hold their own amongst all these international heavyweights. Isabelle Copet lays a gigantic lace collar in the pool behind the castle. In the park Michaël Aerts places an inverted statue of Louis XIV on a pedestal made of flight cases and builds a seven metre high obelisk from the same black cases. Two twisted sculptures by Wim Delvoye overlook the entrance hall. Zaza contributes a print. In the mirrored room Bart Ramakers has filmed a richly imaginative ballet on the theme of romantic love. Painter Jan Devliegher exhibits gigantic porcelain plates and Nick Ervinck has printed two stunningly designed vases in 3D. A design for a bedroom by architect Koen Deprez combines classic panelling and Fragonard paintings with Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey. Pieter Theuns (BOX) has composed music inspired by Mozart for the exhibition.

Kasteel d’Ursel

For nearly four centuries Kasteel van Hingene was the favourite summer residence of the aristocratic d’Ursel family. Every summer the Duke would travel with family and servants to his magnificent country house. Now it is the property of the Province of Antwerp, which is restoring it to its former glory. In 2014 Kasteel d’Ursel won the ‘Flemish Heritage Award’.

The exhibition begins on the first floor and leads you through the noble family’s former bedchambers. The service stairs bring you directly to the second floor where once the servants and the children of the family were accommodated. The circuit ends in the hall of mirrors and the reception rooms of the ground floor. The restored castle, with its characteristic Chinese interior decoration, is the perfect setting for this contemporary look at the 18th century.

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