Antwerp’s Middelheim Museum is a surprise that’s worth a trip to the Belgian city. The unique open-air sculpture museum—where nature and art establish a constant peculiar dialogue—is a 27-hectare institution that’s home to sculptures of several relevant artists of the past century. The current exhibition, British artist Richard Deacon’s “SOME TIME” is a striking, fascinating show made up of some 31 artworks. Internationally renowned, Deacon was awarded with the prestigious Turner Prize in 1987 and his work appeared at Venice Biennale and Documenta Kassel, as well as in major contemporary art museums such as Tate Britain in London and PS1 in New York.
One of Deacon’s key approaches to his art is experimentation. He prefers to be called a “fabricator,” since he is always working new techniques and materials. For each new sculpture he envisions, he finds the best craftspeople to help him complete it—and sometimes he will leave the traces of the process in the final piece, so people can see behind the curtain. He also tends to “refabricate” his sculptures if they don’t stand the test of time.
The exhibition in Antwerp is centered on the refabrication of “Never Mind,” a sculpture acquired by the museum in 1993. The first version of this clean and majestic piece was made of wooden slats, resembling an airship-shaped boat. After almost 25 years outdoors, the sculpture needed significant restoration. When contacted by the museum, Deacon was clear about the future of the sculpture and chose to reconstruct it almost entirely. The original bearing structure was kept and restored, while the external shell has been recreated in stainless steel strips.
Of course, “SOME TIME” makes reference to the ways in which time can change things, and many of the works chosen for the exhibition have been totally or partially remade. In front of “Never Mind,” Sara Weyns (the Director of Middelheim Museum) tells us that after seeing the conditions of the sculpture, Deacon was not happy. “He takes pride in fabricating things and he was very frustrated,” she says.
Weyns continues, “Our goal is to document the intentions of the artists.” The result of this mindset and Deacon’s refabricating passion, they worked side by side—which, Weyns says was a privilege. The team “got past the blame to come together with a solution,” she says. “From a crisis this became a huge opportunity of research for the museum and for the public. This is not simply the rebirth of a work of art, but also a rebirth for our institution.”
Richard Deacon’s “SOME TIME” is open now at Middelheim Museum through 24 September 2017.
First two images by Paolo Ferrarini, all other courtesy of Richard Deacon and Middelheim Museum