Flemish artist Panamarenko dies aged 79
One of the most famous Belgian artists of the 20th century, Panamarenko died unexpectedly at home at the weekend
Panamarenko was both engineer and artist, known for his flying machines. Whether they were large-scale blimps, figures with jetpacks or tabletop creatures, nearly all of his works had to do with the archetypes dream: to be able to fly. And many of them actually could fly.
One of Belgium’s most famous contemporary artists, Panamarenko exhibited in museums around the world over several decades. Many of his works are in public spaces in Belgium.
Panamarenko’s father was an electrical engineer, and his grandfather was an architect, and both disciplines would inform his work during and after his studies at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp.
Not long after his graduation in 1960, he took on the artist’s name Panamarenko. Obsessed with flying, he created it from “Pan American Airlines” and “Company”.
His work was a mix of fantasy and reality, with some based on aircraft and others on insects, birds and even ocean-going vessels. He moved into diving machines, creating fantastical submarines.
As long as his works had propellers, they suggested movement to him. It wasn’t always known which of Panamarenko’s pieces could really fly, dive or drive or not – which was part of the fun. “He’s perfectly capable of building a plane that really works, but that’s not his goal,” curator Jo Coucke once told Flanders Today. “He has always combined poetic works with technical ones.”
Until his move to the Flemish Ardennes about 15 years ago, Panamarenko lived and worked in Antwerp, where he was born. The city has opened a memorial book in city hall.
Photos: Panamarenko in 2014 (top) ©Eric Lalmand/BELGA; The bronze statue “Pepto Bismo 2003” is in Antwerp’s Sint-Jansplein (centre) ©Peter DE Voecht/BELGA