The Revenge of the Common Place

A Triple History of Appropriation and Illusion on behalf of the Brillo Box, and some other Stories on Copies and Originals


Curated by Hans Maria De Wolf
Palazzo Nani Mocenigo, Dorsoduro 960, 30123 Venezia
Vaporetto: Zattere or Academia
9 May – 31 July 2015

Artists Francis Alÿs, Song Dong and Rinus van der Velde have been selected by curator Hans De Wolf to represent the Ministry of the Flemish community.

De Wolf has developed a controversial and humorous exhibition, constructed around some of the most fundamental misunderstandings between Western tradition and the Far East. Traditionally, in the West, the idea of authorship has always been highly protected and linked with the notion of genius. Today, many artists operating in the avant-garde have transcended those ideas, a trend that started perhaps with Duchamp. What is not yet clear is the question of whether we have already come to terms with all possible consequences of this new situation, a question which became all the more obvious since a new kid appeared on the block: the Chinese artist.

Taking Andy Warhol’s famous Brillo Boxes as a starting point, this exhibition will lead the spectator into a new climate, in which the status of the art work as an object becomes unsecure and suggesting that we might have reached a ‘post-object-era’. This current situation will be tackled head on by a new piece by painter Rinus Van de Velde, while the exhibition as a whole will be considerably enriched by a new installation by Song Dong and a video by Francis Alÿs.

Editors’ Notes
Questioning the Original
Ever since their first appearance in New York in 1964, Andy Warhol’s Brillo Boxes became emblems of a new kind of world, in which high art and popular culture were no longer separated. Pop art became the dominant visual language of that period, and, although the whole movement was rooted in social critique and scepticism towards modern consumerism, no artists involved would prevent their works from becoming the beloved objects of an art world now marked by an ‘unbearable lightness of being’ in comparison to previous periods.

Arthur Danto proclaimed this sensational moment as the end of the domination of cultural elites, a moment that marked the rebirth of philosophy out of the ‘common place’ for which the Brillo Box was the ultimate expression. Whilst these ideas were being incorporated into the American educational systems and beyond, at the same time the believers of Danto’s vision turned a blind eye to the activities of a number of people (in China, for instance) that were operating in the shadows of this beautiful new art world.

When the world finally found out about the stories of fakes and business, and curator De Wolf wanted to introduce them within an exhibition that he was preparing in Beijing, he quickly realised that the Chinese today simply love the idea of the copy. This summer De Wolf will present a number of objects that are not art works, nor copies, nor replicas, nor interpretations, and not even an edition. The objects to be presented in this exhibition allow the painter Rinus van der Velde to come to terms with the whole story and to make a painting, just a painting. Not a fake.

Since the whole idea was born in China, a universe that has to come to terms itself, with its recent history (in art) and its own unique appreciation of the copy as the ultimate compliment that one can make in regard to an original, Song Dong was invited to mirror these ideas within a new installation. Francis Alÿs will complete the exhibition. Based in Mexico City, Alÿs has already questioned the legacy of the ‘original’ as a format for many years. His contribution will complete the exhibition with the notion of violence: probably the most ancient expression of the copy as a format of narcissism.

Mr. Hans De Wolf, 1961 - Lives and works in Brussels, Belgium
Hans De Wolf is an art historian who focuses mainly on modern and contemporary art, philosophy and aesthetics. In 2009 De Wolf was commissioned by the Brussels Regional Government to create a first exhibition project for Shanghai 2010. Several other projects would follow, all bringing some of Belgium’s outstanding artists to cities such as Beijing, Hangzhou, Seoul, Gwangju, Chengdu and Beijing. Over the years a unique methodology was developed that can be understood as the intertwining of cultural and academic diplomacy, whereby exhibition projects become the driving force for an intensive interchange including local universities and art schools. Most recently, in October 2014, De Wolf curated the exhibition ‘Master Mould and Copy Room’ at the museum of the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) in Beijing.

Mr. Francis Alÿs, 1959 - Lives and works in Mexico City, Mexico
Francis Alÿs’ works consist of performances, videos, drawings, paintings and sculptures, which he creates and develops in different cities, such as New York, London, Lima and Jerusalem. Alÿs describes the context of his artistic activities as being ‘political’, but in the Greek meaning of the word polis: the city as a place of awareness and conflict. With simple, ironic and outspoken actions, he studies the influence of art on life in the city.

Mr. Song Dong, 1966 - Lives and works in Beijing, China
Song Dong has stood up on top of the avant-garde action art movement in China and became an important conceptual artist in the contemporary art development of China. The artistic forms of Song’s works cross such areas as actions, images and sculpture, etc. His works are often found between the modern and the traditional and between art and life. They often explore the transience of human behaviors and the relationship between human memory on one side and history, sentiment, self-awareness and the external world on the other side.

Mr. Rinus Van de Velde, 1983 - Lives and works in Antwerp, Belgium
At the base of the recent work of the Antwerp-based artist, Rinus Van de Velde lies an obsessive documentary process, in which the artist works with an archive of photographic images which are then used as basic elements for a series of charcoal drawings. These drawings do not contain a certain essence, nor the structure of the image, but they are produced because of the effect of the drawing itself. Van de Velde occupies the material in order to tell a new story.

For more information contact
Rhiannon Pickles, Pickles PR

Organising body:
Vrije Universiteit Brussel (Free University Brussels-VUB)
Pleinlaan 2, 1050 Brussels, Belgium

In association with:                                         
Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp (M HKA)
Leuvenstraat 32,
2000 Antwerp, Belgium

Commissioned by:
Ministerie van de Vlaamse Gemeenschap Kunsten en Erfgoed
Arenbergstraat 9, 1000 Brussels, Belgium