Hearing ‘Walter Van Beirendonck’ and the word ‘WOEST’, you might flash back to the fabled Belgian designer’s AW16 show by the same name. Yet we’re talking a different kind of ferocity here: after 2017’s seminal ‘POWERMASK’ exhibition, Van Beirendonck returns to the Dutch museum landscape by designing a thoughtful exposition feting the art of Willem van Genk (1927 – 2005). As one of the most important representatives of Dutch outsider art, it was high time for the world to get (more) familiar with this man’s work in a key retrospective titled ‘WOEST’. It’s open now until March 15 2020, at Hermitage’s Outsider Art Museum Amsterdam (then moving on to Lausanne and Saint Petersburg).
As a longtime admirer of outsider art and Willem van Genk himself, Walter Van Beirendonck was asked to design a universe in which the more than 60 works – some of which have never been shown before – selected by curator and art historian Ans van Berkum could truly shine. “I set out to create an expo the way I think Willem van Genk would have wanted it”, Walter Van Beirendonck told KNOTORYUS (more info on that all out and exclusive conversation soon). ‘WOEST’, can be translated both as ‘furious’ and ‘fierce’ as well as ‘savage’, a title Walter picked because van Genk spent a lot of time being angry at the world but also because his work was very untethered in its brilliance.
After doing a research deep-dive and mulling over the overall concept in his mind, Walter Van Beirendonck wove together a world that showcases the frenzied work of van Genk in a light and airy spectrum of whites and yellow - rejecting the usual dark and tenebrous mood that surrounds outsider art. Entering the expo through a corridor showing flashes of the artist’s life, the exhibition space takes you through the Willem van Genk canon via audio fragments, video, interviews and handwritten texts, soundscapes, self-portraits and 3D words. Collaborating with graphic designer Paul Boudens and Dutch artist (and former Walter intern) Bart Hess, the characters and fetishistic totems that populate van Genk’s art are brought to life. ‘WOEST’ takes you through and behind the work of Willem van Genk, ranging from small pieces and collages to his famed trams and trolley bus installations and even clothing that represents the artist. Living with a major mental health issue like schizophrenia gave Willem van Genk’s ideas and expressions an intensity that is beyond compare.
Accompanying the expo, a newly released book takes you in even deeper. Co-created by Ans van Berkum, Hans Looijen and Walter Van Beirendonck and designed by Paul Boudens, English and Dutch readers are invited to step further inside Van Genk's multi-layered works and paintings crammed with ‘mind-blowing architecture, bird’s-eye views of sinister universes, crowds, trains, trolley-buses and airships’. The time has well and truly come for the artist to get the due respect and attention he may have missed out on during his own life.
Stay tuned for the full Walter Van Beirendonck x Dominique Nzeyimana conversation, which will launch soon on a whole new KNOTORYUS media channel. Exciting!