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(Inter)national

This summer, a major exhibition with the beautiful, sometimes perplexing and provocative, but always fascinating work of Belgian artist Jan Fabre (1958) is on display in the Kröller-Müller Museum. Fabre lives up to his self-appointed epithet ‘servant of beauty’, showing work that incorporates hundreds of thousands of beetle wing cases or many litres of blue Bic ballpoint ink, or that was created through a tour de force of technique and workmanship. With this he lends lustre to the aesthetic paradise of De Hoge Veluwe, but he would not be Jan Fabre if he failed to also bring along the antithesis of beauty, namely death and transience.
The exhibition was developed in collaboration with Fabre and his assistants. It is tailor-made for the museum. In the past few years, he paid frequent visits in order to sample the atmosphere and to discuss and develop ideas. Fabre was thrilled to become acquainted with the collection of the Kröller-Müller Museum, the history of which already spans over one hundred years. A native of Antwerp, Fabre told us of his pride at being included in this world-renowned collection, as a result of the exhibition and the acquisitions that stemmed from it. Later, in press interviews, he also stated that now, together with James Ensor and Panamarenko, both of whom are indeed abundantly represented in our collection, he too represents Flanders in the Kröller-Müller Museum. Since the exhibition opened, many thousands of Flemish visitors will have come to admire the work of their celebrated artist.
I find that deeply moving, this pride. I am also rather envious of it. As a Dutchman, I am used to the Dutch nation, even though its formation as a recognized entity, through the union of provinces, was not all that long ago, which gives rise to few emotions of any kind. The internationalism that my generation (I was born in 1948) was brought up on and the political history till the end of the previous century have undoubtedly suppressed the positive aspects of developing a patriotic feeling. Nationalism in the form of pride seems like a positive force to me, which is worth importing and exporting.
In our museum, an early product of Western modernism, the nationality of the artist was irrelevant, at least in theory. Fabre showed us that nationalism is and is allowed to be of importance. A brief study of the Belgian artists in our collection led to a surprising result: the painters James Ensor, Théo van Rijsselberghe, William Degouve de Nuncques, Henry van de Velde (also the architect of part of the museum!), Félicien Rops, Xavier Melléry, Georges Lemmen, Charles Doudelet, Eugène Boch, Georges Vantongerloo, and the sculptors and contemporary artists Constant Permeke, Albert Termote, George Minne, Oscar Jespers, Rik Wouters, Willy Anthoons, Thierry de Cordier, Marcel Broodthaers and Panamarenko are all prominently represented and nearly always visible. Flanders (and Wallonia) also proves to be well represented in our museum. So even more reason for all Belgians to come visit us.
Meanwhile I had to disappoint the Greek television crew, who recently dropped in, as I could not show them any (modern) Greek artists in our collection. Thus, an international orientation has not ensured the balanced representation from other countries in the world. Every view is coloured, but it seems to me a good lesson that one must be aware of that.

Evert van Straaten
May 2011

Image: James Ensor, La vengeance de Hop-Frog, circa 1896