Jan Fabre bows to Flemish masters in Paris Louvre

PARIS (Reuters Life!) - Belgian artist Jan Fabre has no qualms about admitting he is a mere dwarf compared to the Flemish and Dutch masters of old, and is using an exhibition at the Louvre museum to make the point.

Visitors walk below the glass Pyramid entrance, designed by Chinese-born U.S.architect I.M. Pei, at the Louvre Museum in Paris in this August 6, 2007 file photo. REUTERS/Regis Duvignau

Fabre, a conceptual artist known for his blue “Bic” ballpoint pen drawings, is showing some 40 works among the Louvre’s “Paintings of the Northern School” collection, as part of the museum’s efforts to juxtapose modern and classical art.

The first exhibit is a disconcertingly lifelike statue of Fabre as a dwarf, bleeding profusely after hitting his nose against the work of a medieval master.

“Next to them, I am very small. I have to prove that my work will survive a few centuries,” Fabre told Le Monde.

Fabre -- who is also a performance artist and theatre director -- has reason to be in awe.

With some 1,200 paintings from the 15th century to about 1850, the Louvre’s Flemish and Dutch collection is one of the largest in the world and includes works by Jan Van Eyck, Breugel, Rubens, Van Dyck, Rembrandt and Vermeer.

The high point of the exhibition is the Medicis gallery, which houses a series of massive paintings by Rubens, who lived and worked in Antwerp, which is also Fabre’s hometown.

Fabre’s answer to Rubens is his “Self-portrait as the world’s biggest worm,” a meters-long silicon worm crawling on a carpet of 470 granite tombstones.

“Fabre creates the most extraordinary images with the most simple of tools,” said museum visitor and architect Camille Parent, adding that exhibiting modern works alongside classical art made people rediscover and appreciate the classics.

Many of Fabre’s works elaborate on the classical themes. Next to Quentin Metsys’ famous “The Moneylender and his wife,” he displays an old Belgian bank note and adds a “My hands are dirty” speech bubble to the portrait of the late King Baudouin.

And if Flemish Primitives such as Jan Van Eck and Hieronymus Bosch used blood as an ingredient in their paints, Fabre goes one step further and paints with his own blood, or sperm, as in his pencil-and-sperm drawing “AIDS bullet.”

Visitor Gisella de Freminville, who teaches languages through art, is not shocked by the contrast.

“It is Fabre’s approach of confrontation that makes this exhibition interesting. His themes are the same; vanity and death.”


“Jan Fabre au Louvre. L’Ange de la metamorphose” runs till July 7.

Jan Fabre's site:

Editing by Paul Casciato