press release

Berlinde De Bruyckere. It Almost Seemed a Lily
In dialogue with 16th century "Enclosed Gardens"
15.12.2018 - 12.05.2019

Opening : 14.12.2018 19:30 - 23:30, By invitation only

The brand new Museum Hof van Busleyden is presenting monumental work by Berlinde De Bruyckere in Mechelen, Belgium. The world-famous Belgian artist engages in a dialogue with the institution’s masterpieces, the newly restored "Enclosed Gardens," which have recently begun to attract considerable interest once again.

The contemporary artist Berlinde De Bruyckere (1964, Ghent) first encountered the magical "Enclosed Gardens" from Mechelen in 2016. She was immediately gripped by the fragility and beauty of these 16th-century retable cases, which have been given a permanent home at the museum.

Mechelen Enclosed Gardens are 16th-century masterpieces that have recently been restored and researched. When opened, the wooden cases reveal paradisiacal walled gardens. Their imagery is unique. The many objects in all manner of materials stimulate the retina and mind alike: flowers and fruits at every stage of blooming and decay; birds, insects, squirrels and a mystical unicorn; papier-pressé medallions and pilgrims’ badges; little stones and relics wrapped in fragments of textile; and, in the foreground, painted figurines (poupées de Malines), enclosed by a little fence. The little gardens with their numerous objets de mémoire express both a horror vacui and above all profound devotion, making these little Gardens an expression of "joyful internalization."

It Almost Seemed a Lily is also the title of Berlinde De Bruyckere’s most recent series of works. Wooden frames containing a single silhouette, a giant flower resembling a lily or a peony. Imposing yet fragile. The frames consist of eighteenth-century oak floorboards, iron, frayed blankets, wallpaper and wax. The materials have a rich history and spill over one another. They conceal and reveal an amorphous form in which you make out flower, stamen and pistil. The pieces allude to earlier work and are also enriched with meanings that refer to both the Mechelen Enclosed Gardens and the myth of Hyacinthus.

"It almost seemed a lily": the words the Roman poet Ovid used in his Metamorphoses to describe the purple-coloured flower into which Hyacinthus is transformed on his tragic death, struck in the head by a discus thrown by Apollo. The god was in love with Hyacinthus, yet snuffed out his life. Berlinde De Bruyckere views Metamorphoses as one of her "Bibles." The transformation of people into animals, stones, plants and flowers—an essential element of her work—is Ovid’s handhold in a cascade of stories that explore the great themes of human life.

The contemporary, monumental sculptures of Berlinde De Bruyckere, a tale from antiquity and the 16th-century "Enclosed Gardens" intertwine, transform one another and are subsumed into a greater whole, transcending time and place. The exhibition It Almost Seemed a Lily is like an uncontrollable dialogue that constantly reveals fresh meanings. This process of unravelling, isolating, fragmenting and reconnecting fits in perfectly with the specific character of Museum Hof van Busleyden.

Housed in the Renaissance city palace of the humanist Hieronymus van Busleyden, the museum is the ideal place in which to inscribe a new future on the past. With the spirit of the 16th-century building as its starting point, it aims once more to become a location that unites art and culture—a hotbed of new ideas and an engine to drive the city’s dynamism. This is a place for a new humanism that interacts with the past and, in so doing, not only explores the actuality of that past, but also visualizes or interrogates the future. We’re not doing all this on our own, but with lots of partners. So the dialogue does not express just one perspective or logic, but many.

It Almost Seemed a Lily. Hannibal Publishing

To mark the occasion, the artist has compiled a deluxe portfolio. Images by the photographer Mirjam Devriendt are interwoven with poetic texts by Berlinde De Bruyckere, Barbara Baert (KULeuven) and Lieve Watteeuw (KULeuven). The portfolio contains six removable sections. Dutch/English edition ISBN 978 94 9267 777 8