Archive for February, 2014

Indeed, I’m Lucky: Memories of Jan Hoet

Cai Guo-Qiang with Jan Hoet, Venice, 1999 Courtesy Cai Studio

Cai Guo-Qiang with Jan Hoet, Venice, 1999
Courtesy Cai Studio

Belgian curator Jan Hoet curated the first site-specific installation exhibition in the world. In 1986, he invited dozens of artists to Ghent, Belgium. The artists were asked to stay with local residents in their houses, in which they dined and created artworks. When the exhibition opened, visitors were invited to follow a map to visit the houses one by one. It caused quite a sensation in the contemporary art scene at that time. Jan used to be an artist when he was young, and was elected to represent Belgium to participate in the “青年双年展” hosted by Centre Pompidou. When he was on his way back to Ghent on a train after the site visit to Paris, for hours he could not think of any interesting ideas, and he felt he lacked the talent to be an artist. That was when he figured he should change his career, and decided to become a curator.

In Ghent, there was a big casino in the park. Jan wanted to transform it into a contemporary art museum. For quite some time, the Chamber of Representatives did not approve this proposal, because the casino played a significant role in the city’s economy. Later on, Jan ran for Chamber of Representative. During his campaign, I saw his portrait printed on garbage trucks in the city. Finally, he was elected. At the chamber’s meeting, he said, “If you don’t agree with my proposal, I will reject everyone’s.” Therefore, the representatives voted yes, and Jan’s bill was passed. The casino was transformed into a museum. Immediately after the bill passed, Jan resigned.

Inheritance: Exploding Jan Hoet’s Portrait (explosion event), realized at S.M.A.K, Belgium, March 28, 2003, approximately 10 seconds Photo by Dirk Pauwels, courtesy S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art

Inheritance: Exploding Jan Hoet’s Portrait (explosion event), realized at S.M.A.K, Belgium, March 28, 2003, approximately 10 seconds
Photo by Dirk Pauwels, courtesy S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art

Jan and I collaborated with each other on nine occasions. The first one was in 1995 in Aoyama, Tokyo. I was still living in Japan then. Jan invited a lot of established artists to create artworks for the show. The site that I was interested in was a kindergarten; however, he wanted to assign it to another artist. We argued about it. I explained my concept to him: “My idea is to create a bamboo bridge from the kindergarten, the bridge will cross the wall and arrive at Aoyoma Cemetery on the other side.” Jan’s concern was that bridge might not look like an ‘artwork’ (or would not be artistic enough). He was also worried that using kindergarten might interfere with the artwork of the artists he liked. Jan came to inspect the bridge when it was complete; we both walked on the unstable structure. All of a sudden he happily patted my shoulder, saying “Good, good good.” The unstable bridge eased his unsettledness. In this way, he felt the strengths and tension in art.

When Jan turned sixty in 1996, he invited me to Ghent to create a piece that would be acquired by S.M.A.K: Stedelijk Museum Voor Actuele Kunst. I suggested that I would explode a piece on the wall, inside the museum’s storage space. Jan got very excited about it, and understood that I was causing him trouble; the work would be collected by the museum, but the visitors would never be able to see it. After the work was exploded on the wall, I asked him to sign the contract in front of everyone, and agree to acquire the piece. I exploded a dinosaur on the wall, naming the work: Dragon Skeleton/Suture of the Wall—True Collection (1996). Men like collecting dinosaurs; museums around the world collect fossils and skeletons of dinosaurs. After Jan signed the contract, he whispered: “I plan to open the storage for the visitors regularly.” Curators and artists sometimes compete with each other to mutually improve.

Inheritance: Exploding Jan Hoet’s Portrait (explosion event), realized at S.M.A.K, Belgium, March 28, 2003, approximately 10 seconds Photo by Dirk Pauwels, courtesy S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art

Inheritance: Exploding Jan Hoet’s Portrait (explosion event), realized at S.M.A.K, Belgium, March 28, 2003, approximately 10 seconds
Photo by Dirk Pauwels, courtesy S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art

In 1999, the museum (S.M.A.K.) was finally built from the former casino. Jan invited me to do an explosion event for the opening. At the beginning, my idea was to roll the paper notes of the Belgian Franc to equal the budget of the artwork, fill the notes with gunpowder, and explode them in front of the entrance of the museum. After a while, he replied, “The Minister of Finance answered, saying that if you were to do this, at the very least, you would be imprisoned for life.” Then I had another idea: to use the amount of funds to buy soft chips from another casino and turn them into firecrackers. At the opening, we lit up the string of firecrackers. I stood under an umbrella, and the pieces of soft chips fell down like snowflakes.

Inheritance: Exploding Jan Hoet’s Portrait (explosion event), realized at S.M.A.K, Belgium, March 28, 2003, approximately 10 seconds Photo by Dirk Pauwels, courtesy S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art

Inheritance: Exploding Jan Hoet’s Portrait (explosion event), realized at S.M.A.K, Belgium, March 28, 2003, approximately 10 seconds
Photo by Dirk Pauwels, courtesy S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art

In 2003, before Jan left S.M.A.K., he curated a large-scale solo exhibition for me. In Ghent, and perhaps even in Belgium’s art wrk, he was like a god. He was the curator for Documenta in 1992, and he established S.M.A.K. For this exhibition, he wanted me to create something that could be both acquired by the museum and be viewed by visitors. Therefore, I exploded his portrait on the wall behind the museum entrance; the piece was named Inheritance (2003). I wanted to see how long it would take the next director to remove Jan’s portrait. Inside the museum, I created An Arbitrary River, a river that connected different galleries. Sixty-year-old Jan rode on the yak skin raft in the river, unafraid of being humiliated and falling into the river. Before the new director started, Jan removed his portrait. He told me in advance, “I don’t want to burden the new director.” I responded, “That work was dedicated to you; you are the Director, and it is your decision to make.” Every time I travelled to Ghent to install exhibitions, I noticed that if he ran into a bunch of artists having dinner, he would discretely asked the restaurant owners to credit the dinner to his account. Sometimes if exhibition organizers were not able to include the artists he liked, or when the budget exceeded the limit, Jan would tell the organizer to give his portion of remuneration to the artists, so that they could realize their works. If he ran into someone trash-talking the artists he liked, he would rush to them—looking as if he was ready to fight them—and argue with them. For these reasons, the media were afraid of him.

Inheritance: Exploding Jan Hoet’s Portrait (explosion event), realized at S.M.A.K, Belgium, March 28, 2003, approximately 10 seconds Photo by Dirk Pauwels, courtesy S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art

Inheritance: Exploding Jan Hoet’s Portrait (explosion event), realized at S.M.A.K, Belgium, March 28, 2003, approximately 10 seconds
Photo by Dirk Pauwels, courtesy S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art

When he learned that I was going to relocate from Japan to New York, he pointed his finger to my chest, warning me “Do not lose your soul in the U. S.”

One time, when I was having an exhibition in Europe, I went to Ghent to see him. We met in the museum’s café, and all of a sudden, he asked me to go to hospital with him to see him undergoing dialysis; the single appointment took six hours. Although everyone was concentrating on watching television during this time, he could not stop talking about my art making.

Cai Guo-Qiang assisting curator Jan Hoet riding raft on An Arbitrary History: River at S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art, Ghent, Belgium, 2003. Photo by Dirk Pauwels, courtesy S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art

Cai Guo-Qiang assisting curator Jan Hoet riding raft on An Arbitrary History: River at S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art, Ghent, Belgium, 2003.
Photo by Dirk Pauwels, courtesy S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art

I won the Golden Lion Award for Venice Biennale 1999. Jan was the curator for Belgian Pavilion. After the ceremony, I ran into him in Piazza San Marco. He hugged me, with tears in the eyes. At that moment, I was moved—more moved than I had felt when receiving the award.

Cai Guo-Qiang, Hong Hong Wu, Wen You Cai and Jan Hoet, Venice, 1999 Courtesy Cai Studio

Cai Guo-Qiang, Hong Hong Wu, Wen You Cai and Jan Hoet, Venice, 1999
Courtesy Cai Studio

– Cai Guo-Qiang

Translation of a text originally published in “Cai Guo-Qiang’s Blog on Paper: Indeed, I’m Lucky,”  Bazaar Art no. 279 (Mar. 2012), pp. 50-54

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我真的很幸運

比利时策展人杨·荷特,策划了世界上最早因地制宜的装置艺术展。1986年,他邀请了几十个艺术家到根特市,让他们在民居家里吃住和创作。展览的时候让观众带着地图,一家一家去观赏。一开幕即在当代艺术界形成轰动。Jan年轻时曾是艺术家,被选为比利时代表参加巴黎蓬皮度中心的“青年双年展”。当他去巴黎看完场地乘火车回家乡根特的路上,几个小时,都想不出方案的时候,他感到自己没有才能,吃这行饭不行,就转行当了策展人。

根特市的公园里有一个大赌场,Jan希望把赌场改建为当代美术馆,可是一直都得不到议会的支持,因为对城市而言,赌场是很好的收入。后来他就干脆自己去竞选当议员。我还看到马路上的垃圾车上都是他的头像海报。结果他真的被选上了。在议会的提案时他对其他议员说:“如果你们不同意我的这个方案,以后我将否决任何人的所有方案。”大家即说:“好吧,先投票通过他的提案,赌场改建当代美术馆”。议案一通过,他就辞去了议员的职位。

我是95年开始跟Jan合作的,前后一共合作过九次展览。第一个展览是在东京青山。当时我还居住在日本。Jan从世界邀请了很多大艺术家来参加。我看上的是一个幼儿园,可他很想把幼儿园给别的艺术家。我们还因此而吵架,我对他说:“我的作品是从幼儿园架一座用竹子搭的桥,翻过墙,到那边的青山墓地。”但Jan担心建桥可能不像艺术品。他也怕我用幼儿园会干扰到他喜欢的艺术家的作品。桥建完后他来检查,与我走在摇摇晃晃的桥上。他突然就很开心地拍我肩膀说:“行行行”。不安的桥使他更安心,他感到这样才有艺术的张力。

1996年Jan 60岁生日,邀请我到根特做一件作品,让美术馆收藏。当时我提议把作品炸在美术馆收藏库的墙上。他一听就特兴奋。他深知我这是给他麻烦,收藏的作品,观众却永远都看不到。作品炸完了,我让他当着大家的面签了一份合约,表明他会付款买下作品。我在墙上炸的是恐龙,叫《藏龙卧虎》。因为人类喜欢收藏恐龙,全世界很多博物馆都有恐龙的化石骨架。他签完后悄悄告诉我:“以后我就经常开放这个收藏库给民众参观。”策展人、艺术家常常是在较劲中相互提高的。

99年,由赌场改造成的美术馆建成了。他邀请我为美术馆的开馆做方案。开始我的设想是把他给我的作品预算直接以比利时元(纸币)卷成鞭炮,里面装着火药,在美术馆门口燃放。很长时间后他终于回复“国家财政部长回答了:‘如果你做这件事,最起码是无期徒刑。’”后来我改变主意,用这笔钱买另一赌场的赌券,再做成鞭炮。开馆时就放了这串鞭炮,我在雨伞下面。炸碎了的赌券像雪花那样飘下来。

2003年,他要离开这个美术馆了。离开之前他做了我的大型个展。他在5根特这个城市甚至比利时整个国家的艺术界,就像神一样。因为他92年就成为了卡塞尔文献展(Documenta)的策展人,这个美术馆也是他辛苦创立。这次他要我做既能让他能够收藏,又让人看得到的作品。我就在美术馆进门后的大墙上炸了他的头像,名为《遗产》。看之后的馆长什么时候能把他的头像刷掉。我还在馆内做了一条河流,把各个展厅连在一起。他60多岁了,还乘上牛皮伐,在河上撑,不怕掉到水里丢脸。但在新馆长上任之前,他把头像刷掉了。他先找我商量:“我不想给未来的人留下负担。”我回答:“作品是为你做,你还是馆长,应该由你决定。”每一次我们到根特做展览,如果他刚好经过看到我们一群艺术家在吃饭,常会悄悄跟餐馆老板打招呼说把帐记到他那。有些时候如果主办方没有预算囊括他喜爱的艺术家,或当艺术家提的方案超出预算,他就对主办方说将他的报酬给艺术家实现作品。还碰到过有人说他喜欢的艺术家的坏话,他就冲过去,似乎要打架似的,但他其实是要现场辩论。因此媒体都很怕他。

当他得知我将从日本移居纽约,他用手指头触着我的胸口,警告我“去美国,小心不要丢了你的灵魂。”

还有一次,我在欧洲做展览,跑到根特去看他。我们在美术馆的咖啡厅见面时,突然他要我跟他去医院看他洗肾,一洗就要6个小时。大家都专注在看电视,可他滔滔不绝地给周边的人讲我的艺术。

99年威尼斯双年展,我得了奖,Jan是比利时馆的策展人。授奖仪式结束后,我在圣马可广场碰到他。他拥抱我时,眼泪流下来了。此刻让我比获奖更为感动。

 

蔡国强

原文出版于《时尚芭莎艺术》杂志。

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