Inspired by mythology, Christian tales, iconography, and Renaissance painting, the timeless works of Berlinde De Bruyckere are characteristic of a unique language bridging the archaic with the most contemporary. Making the body, human or animal its central motive, the practice of De Bruyckere points to the vulnerability and fragility of the living while addressing themes of mortality, pain, and beauty.
The sense of ambiguity is a common denominator for most of Berlinde De Bruyckere’s works, a tool allowing for the universality and openness of the piece in terms of reading, whether through the collective or personal memory. The abstract yet familiar nature of some of De Bruyckere’s works reminds us of the Unheimlich (Uncanny), Freud’s term for the concealed, the repressed, and the re-surfaced. Berlinde De Bruyckere’s Met Tere Huid III, 2014, serves as the perfect example. The ambiguous approach towards the sculpture’s materiality and material relation to the body generates a feeling of visual unease followed by a heightened sense of curiosity, drawing the eye deep into the work. A horse halter made from residue, such as discarded horse collars, old blankets, weathered leather, or wax casts of animal skins, the work encompasses, through its stillness, a relation to the past. Its “fleshy” aesthetic and the tenderness of some of its materials create associations with the motive of the horse, a recurring subject in De Bruyckere’s work and a symbol of bodily vastness and the vastness of death. The relation of the sculpture to the horse remains unspoken, allowing for opposing themes such as care and exploitation, beauty and death, to loosely intertwine while simultaneously introducing a layer of sexualization into the work, emphasized here by the nature of the object, a reference to field labor, a symbol of male domination, set against the formal resemblances of the sculpture with the female sex. The fragmented and abstract nature of the work echoes the act of mutilation while simultaneously surfacing opposing themes such as care and torture, beauty, and death. The carnality of the applied materials, their sensuality, and the sexuality of what appears to be soft flesh echo the complex emotional and metaphysical bodily states, subject to continuous transformation, healing, and rebirth.
De Bruyckere’s sculptures and drawings have been the subject of numerous exhibitions in major institutions worldwide. These include ‘PEL – Becoming the Figure, Arp Museum, Remagen, Germany (2022), ‘Plunder/Ekphrasis, MO.CO, Montpellier, France (2022), ‘Engelenkeel’, Bonnefanten, Maastricht, The Netherlands (2021), ‘Aletheia’, Fondazione Sandretto Re rebaudengo, Turin, Italy (2019-2020), ‘Il Mantello’ (5x5x5 event for Manifesta 12), Santa Venera Church, Palermo, Sicily (2018), ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere’, Sara Hilden Art Museum, Tampere, Finland (2018), ‘Embalmed’, Kunsthal Aarhus, Denmark (2017), ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere. Suture’, Leopold Museum, Vienna, Austria (2016); ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere. Penthesilea’, Mus.e d’Art Moderne et Contemporain, Strasbourg, France (2015); ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere. The Embalmer’, Kunsthaus Bregenz, Bregenz, Austria (2015); ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere. The Embalmer’, Kunstraum Dornbirn, Dornbirn, Austria (2015); ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere’, Gemeentemuseum Den Haag, The Hague, Netherlands (2015); ‘Berlinde De Bruyckere. In the Flesh’, Kunsthaus Graz, Graz, Austria (2013); ‘Philippe Vandenberg & Berlinde De Bruyckere. Innocence is precisely: never to avoid the worst’, De Pont Museum of Contemporary Art, Tilburg, Netherlands (2012) which traveled to La Maison Rouge – Fondation Antoine de Galbert, Paris, France (2014); ‘We are all Flesh’, Australian Centre for Contemporary Art, Melbourne, Australia (2012); ‘The Wound’, Arter, Istanbul, Turkey (2012); ‘Mysterium Leib. Berlinde De Bruyckere im Dialog mit Cranach und Pasolini’ at Kunstmuseum Moritzburg, Halle, Germany and Kunstmuseum Bern, Switzerland (2011); DHC / ART Foundation for Contemporary Art, Montreal, Canada (2011); and ‘E.n’, De Pont Foundation for Contemporary Art, Tilburg, Netherlands (2005) among other. In 2013 De Bruyckere was selected to represent Belgium at the 55th Venice Biennale where she unveiled her monumental work ‘Kreupelhout –Cripplewood’, a collaboration with Nobel Prize novelist J.M. Coetzee.