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The State of Things

Yesterday I visited the exhibition ‘The State of Things‘ at the BOZAR in Brussels.

I have to say that I was disappointed.  After seeing Manu Riche’s excellent documentary on BOZAR’s Paul Dujardin and the making of the exhibition (De Lange Mars, part of the Hoge Bomen series), perhaps my expectations were too high.

‘The State of Things’ is a large exhibition of disparate Belgian and Chinese artists.  It aims to question the ‘Faustian pact that today unites the artist and the art industry, creation and marketing’ (BOZAR website).  It seeks to demonstrate that art cannot escape the mundaneness of society, but is always society’s ‘reflection and a concentrate of society’.

But doesn’t all contemporary art do that?  There was, for me, no clear link between the works displayed; no clear reason why Belgium was side-by-side with China.  The theme was not strong enough: it remained an eclectic mix, the whole not greater than the sum of the individual parts.

I do not deny the power of some of the individual pieces displayed.  There is a great deal of emotion in many of the works; much political engagement and much anger.  But, with some notable exceptions, no beauty and very little humour.

And I have discovered that works that make me feel sick to the stomach do not have (what I presume to be) the desired affect.  By invoking a physical repulsion, any important message (political or otherwise) remains blocked by my nausea and fails to reach either my brain or my soul.

Ironically, the Belgian ‘State of Things’ was encapsulated for me in the cloakroom on my way out.  I inadvertently knocked a young woman’s yellow mitten onto the floor as I retrieved my coat.  I had been speaking to my family in English but apologised to her in Dutch.  She said (in English): ‘I speak French’.  I said (perhaps too flippantly): ‘Oh, I never know what language to use.’  She said: ‘In Brussels most people speak French’.  And then she left, in what I can only presume was a flemophobic flurry, before I had a chance to delve further into her fear and antipathy.  And this, from an apparently educated young woman, interested in culture, within the confines of the conscientiously bilingual BOZAR.  Ah, Belgium.

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