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 horse has been a reoccurring theme in De Bruyckere’s practice. First introduced in 1999 as part of the exhibition In Flanders Fields, the result of the artist’s research in the archives of the WWI Museum, the horse has since then found its firm place in the work of the artist, becoming a key component in shaping the more recent visual language of her sculptures. Introduced through the monstrosities of WWI documentation, specifically photographs of dead horses, the horse, through its bodily vastness, for De Bruyckere became a symbol of the vastness of death.
Lost V, 2021-2022, a new sculpture of a young horse reminds through its composition and mode of display of sacrifice, a motive explored by many of De Bruyckere’s works and inspired by Francisco de Zurbarán’s Agnus Dei, a painting of a young dead lamb. Disguising its narrative, however, from themes directly related to Christian iconography, the Lost series suggests greater ambiguity. In this case, also through its relation with the tradition of still life painting and the placement and arrangement of objects, may these be fruits, vegetables, or dead, freshly hunted animals on a table. Through its stillness, the horse can be perceived as dead, fast asleep, or in between states. The placement and position of the body on the slab of noble yet desecrated marble allow us to feel the body’s weight, questioning its temperature in relation to the cold surface of the stone, generating a sense of temporal uncertainty that results in a heightened sense of ambiguity. The contrasting theme of care, closeness, and protection also unfold in this work, namely through an old blanket carefully wrapped around the horse’s body. Using natural and seemingly humble materials such as marble, metal, fabric, or animal skin, De Bruyckere transforms organic elements into ambiguous sculptures, where the idea of transformation and metamorphosis relates equally to the work’s materiality, as well as to its manifold conceptual layers rooted deeply in the idea of rebirth and transcendence.
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.