Philipp Vandenberg – Kamikaze

Phillipe Vandenberg
Philippe Vandenberg
Foto: Jean Pierre Stoop

Hamburger Kunsthalle

Glockengießerwall, 20095 Hamburg

Philipp Vandenberg – Kamikaze

Through February 24, 2019


“To me, there is no happy painting, truly great painting always has something desperate about it, something frightening, something ugly even” – Philippe Vandenberg, 1997

The dramatic sounding title of the Kunsthalle’s great fall exhibition “Kamikaze” therefore seems almost natural considering Phillipe Vandenberg’s opinion about art.

The Hamburg Kunsthalle is showing the biggest Vandenberg exhibition, and Germany’s first ever exhibition of the Flemish artist. The diverse work ranges from large sheets of repetitive words and phrases, as well as with blood-splattered work to large relief like mono-colored canvases and figurative paintings reflecting relationships and family bonds.

Philippe Vandenberg_Les porteurs (The Carriers)_1998
Philippe Vandenberg (1952–2009)
Les porteurs (The Carriers), 1998
Öl, Pastell, Kohle, Klebeband und Bleistift auf nicht grundierter Leinwand, 91,5 x 125,5 cm
© The Estate of Philippe Vandenberg /Courtesy Hauser & Wirth
Philippe Vandenberg_im Atelier_2007_Wouter Cox
Philippe Vandenberg im Atelier, 2007
© The Estate of Philippe Vandenberg
Foto: Wouter Cox

Kamikaze – divine wind in its original Japanese meaning, is best known for the self-destruction, suicidal maneuvers carried out by the Japanese air force in WWII. Philippe Vandenberg himself believed in the creative destruction, what he calls Kamikaze; that something new can only ascend from destroying something in return. Scrapping off paint from his canvases, re-applying new layers of color and repeating the process was therefore just as much one of his signature methods as his continuous use of real blood in his work.

PhilippeVandenberg_No title_1996
Philippe Vandenberg (1952–2009)
Kein Titel / No title, ca. 1996
Blut, Kohle und Pauspapier auf Baumwolle / Blood, charcoal and tracing paper on cotton, 200 x 200 cm
© The Estate of Philippe Vandenberg / Courtesy Hauser & Wirth

Vandenberg uses the word Kamikaze itself in its’ original form or in abbreviations in his paintings, drawing attention to this self-reflection of his inner turmoil, it seems. This can also be observed in his stylistic breaks, that come across as chaotic at first but then fall into place in a logical stream of his engagement for those different motifs, as controversial as they might seem. Torture, swastika, sexuality, religion and relationships, to just name some. I therefore highly recommend a guided tour and/or strong reference to the Exhibition Book as a great read; to be able to grasp the great but maybe troubled mind of Vandenberg in its’ full context.

In fact, this exhibition does not come across as a “happy place”, like Philippe Vandenberg’s quote from the beginning, his paintings are surrounded with an aura of desperation; a tragedy even.

According to Vandenberg, that might just be great painting.

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