Jean Schwind retrospective exposes art as swindle

Summary

A new exhibition at SMAK showcases the artistic blitzkrieg of Jean Schwind, an envelope-pushing Belgian artist who didn't know where to stop

Appropriation artist

A funeral wreath to Belgian art (“A notre cher art belge”), with a ribbon in the Belgian tricolour over a ring of black plastic flowers and foliage, welcomes you to the small exhibition in SMAK that showcases Jean Schwind’s artistic blitzkrieg.

Schwind was a pseudonym used by academic-turned-artist Jean Warie (1935-1985) between 1969 and 1976, the year of Schwind’s self-proclaimed death.

“Schwind was an heir to the destructive side of Dada”, says curator Jan Ceuleers. “Unlike kindred spirit Marcel Broodthaers, who was diplomatic enough to know and respect boundaries, Schwind didn’t know where to stop.”

His one-man guerrilla warfare was aimed at everything the art world held – and still holds – very dear. Warie created a mysterious persona that would go against the very notion of an artist as an individual genius who creates (and sells) unique pieces of art.

As the first and only Belgian appropriation artist, Schwind made pastiches of works by Christo, Lucio Fontana, Broodthaers and others. Not with the intention of forging his way into the art market, but to expose art as a swindle.

Schwind often destroyed his pastiches or – in the line of conceptual art – didn’t materialise his plans at all. SMAK shows a series of photos of art works about to go up in flames, thus “sanctifying” the replicated remnants of a distorting parody.

With a scathing sense of humour, Schwind offered critique on the art world and the commodification of art objects. He created his own “anti-collection” with tricolored art works and parodies of celebrated art, until the art project that was his life had to come to an end.

Because sooner or later, the appropriation artist would become appropriated himself. 

Photo courtesy: Zelo zelatus sum, Hommage à Boltanski, 1971

A new exhibition at SMAK showcases the artistic blitzkrieg of Jean Schwind, an envelope-pushing Belgian artist who didn't know where to stop.

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