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Born in 1939 in Gorinchem, and died in Vlissingen in 2024 (Netherlands).

Lived and worked in Vlissingen (Netherlands).

Jan Van Munster was one of the most important Dutch artists of the 21st century. His work was at the crossroads of fundamental art-historical movements: Minimalism, Arte Povera and Conceptual Art. On the one hand, the aesthetics of his works are striking for the purity of the forms he used and the limited palette of colors. On the other, they formalize often invisible physical and chemical phenomena (heat, cold, magnetism or movement) in a highly sensitive and/or poetic way, evoking notions such as finitude, duality, energy or the impalpable.

Jan Van Munster passed away last May. Galerie Bacqueville, with whom he had collaborated for many years, pays tribute to his work through a series of emblematic, timeless and universal works.

Image above: Brainwave, 2004. Transparent glass, argon, black paint, transformer. 115 cm. Photo credit: Ivo Wennekes



He seems both present and absent. He's there without really being there. He eats, he drinks, he says a few words now and then. He doesn't always feel comfortable in company, he says, especially when it comes to answering questions about his work. Jan van Munster's style, expressed in his cylindrical residential villa designed on an island at the foot of a water tower between Oost-Souburg and Vlissingen, is like the artist himself: reasoned, concentrated, shaped with extreme precision, no frills, minimalist in black and white.

Beyond this island, behind a noise barrier, the fresh waters of the Westerschelde mingle with the salty waters of the North Sea, the din of the port of Vlissingen resounds and the freeway that crosses Zeeland to the Randstad and beyond begins. When you're on the island of the water tower, everything is close by and yet seems so far away.

It's not the first time I've visited visual artist Jan van Munster. It was on this island, dubbed "IK-eiland" (literally the island of "ME"), that Van Munster built a veritable paradise devoted to art between 2004 and 2012. In addition to the cylindrical villa, a square water tower stands on the island. It was built in brick in 1939, the year Van Munster was born. Following extensive renovation work, this austere 35-meter-high tower now has six floors and an elevator. This is where Van Munster works, creates, reads, soaks up the wisdom around him and experiments with the presentation of his works. Small or huge (like the old reservoir), hot or freezing cold (as in the cellar): in these monumental spaces, anything is possible.

Image above : Heat, 1989. De Vleeshal, Middleburg. Photo credit : Wim Riemens

Galerie Bacqueville - Netherlands 1.jpg

A little further along the island is a group of brand-new, angular pavilions, forming the letters I and K. Until recently, this was a comfortable home for artists in residence; now Van Munster uses them himself. The true beauty of IK Island - a complete work of art - is revealed from the air. You have to board a small plane to see that the buildings on the island are a compilation of geometric shapes. They include a square, a circle, a small rectangle (the "I") and the broken shape of the K. In the air, nothing disturbs the harmonious aesthetics of the whole (as in a polyphonic piece of music), nor the abstract idiom, in which a preference for simplicity is expressed. For the quest for simplicity is characteristic of Van Munster. As he put it in 1977: "In the end, I have to be able to tell my whole story in a single pencil stroke".

Today, more than forty years later, this Gorinchem-born pastor's son simply observes: "Looking back, I haven't made any progress at all in all these years. And he adds, almost apologetically: "That's not a bad thing. Take Bruce Nauman and Mario Merz, colleagues who conceived their story a long time ago and are continuing on the same basis.


Those who think that Jan van Munster's work is nothing more than a formal study of the ultimate pencil stroke - like the one with which Michelangelo tried to convey divine vitality (and spirituality) to man, a stroke that expresses the difference between presence and absence (what else do we glimpse?) or a simple stroke that is nothing more than that, and serves to divide a plane, to create a horizon - those who think so are radically mistaken. For this pencil line never actually saw the light of day.


In its place, works of varying appearances, but with one constant: invisible energy, a short-circuit, an exchange, a movement. These principles are materialized in a number of ways. For example, the two luminous three-dimensional letters that together form the word IK ("I"), found at various locations in the Netherlands and on the island of the water tower, are certainly not about narcissism. For "IK" is both Van Munster himself and the person contemplating this "IK". When we see an "IK" by Van Munster (for example, the reclining sculpture in Rotterdam, created in 1995, or the one above a building in Utrecht, dating from 2003), we always think at the same time of the word "JIJ" ("YOU").

Image above : IK - Pavilions, 2011. Photo credit : Ivo Wennekes

A simple lamp spinning rapidly in circles at the end of a cord in a space also expresses the invisible tension between one and the other, between small and large, between shadow and light. On IK Island, in the darkness of the water tower's reservoir, the projection of light onto the wall creates an incandescent line: a superb circle, infinitely larger than the small bulb at its origin. With Van Munster, light can also have a certain rigidity. He literally fixes it in place in his work Fixed Light (produced in various ways since 1975).The shapes are abstract: circular, jagged or smooth, vertical lines, squares or whimsical arabesques, sometimes finished off with a charcoal line and "hung" on a nail (One Square on a Nail - 1972-2016). Light radiates in blue and green and can no longer escape.


Van Munster sometimes conceals energy to create mysterious, unreal works. Two aluminum boards (In Between, produced in various ways from 1972 to the present day) stand almost vertically against each other in space. Van Munster's magnets in the aluminum mean that the boards almost touch and quiver when given a gentle push. Energy is similarly concealed in works designed to visualize the difference between hot and cold.


On Van Munster's 1986 Ice Tables, perfect snowballs are formed around a steel ball using a compressor. These compressors capture the humidity in the air. In addition to snowballs, an ice-covered chain (Frozen Lightning, 1996) or a black granite form inspired by the Hindu lingam, with a sublime snow cap, are also created. Over the course of hours, sublime ice crystals agglomerate to form a sculpture. The best part is when these sculptures melt, and the artist then collects the "tears" that fell from the sky in 2000 in flasks labelled Tears from Heaven.


Van Munster is an artist firmly rooted in the sixties and seventies, a fertile breeding ground. He was lucky, so to speak, to have escaped the religious atmosphere of his birthplace, Gorinchem. At the age of sixteen, he was apprenticed to a confectioner. He painted with marzipan. The pastry chef said to Van Munster's father, who was a pastor: "This kid needs to go further, he needs to study. He's creative". In 1955, Van Munster left to study at the Rotterdam Academy of Fine Arts. "Two years", his father told him, "and then come back". But of course, Van Munster didn't come back. After two years of classical training in Rotterdam, he was sure of one thing: he wanted to devote himself to art. He went to Amsterdam to join the predecessor institute of the Rietveld Academie, and his persistence paid off ("I didn't have anything significant in my portfolio") as he was accepted after two rejections.

Image above: Jan Van Munster and Tears in Heaven, 2000.


And it was precisely in the sixties that all barriers came down. In artistic terms, it was a time of radical change. Art was no longer just a statue on a pedestal or a painting on a wall. It can also be an event, a political act or a gratuitous gesture. Like Wim T. Schippers, who in 1961 poured a bottle of lemonade into the North Sea at Petten. Art was leaving museums, taking over magazines, pop concert halls and radio stations, or museums themselves were redefining the notion of art. The machismo of Abstract Expressionism and the overflowing fantasies of CoBrA are still present, but no longer the norm. Art can also be just an idea, even more striking than an executed work. Art no longer has to praise the artist's style. Art can be devoted to the nature of the material and the essence of pure form. The material no longer has to be paint, oil, wood or stone. It can also be light, movement, heat, energy.


Jan van Munster was permanently influenced by two movements. Geometric abstract art his friend, the tormented artist Ad Dekkers. Even today, Van Munster uses this artistic mode of visual expression to give shape to his concepts. He was also influenced by Arte Povera, the Italian variant of anti-form art. In the 1970s, this was not yet as obvious as it is today. In retrospect, we can see how the freedom of choice advocated by Arte Povera influenced Van Munster's artistic expression. Rags? No, that's not what Van Munster is aiming for. Earth? No, it's not. The ancestral myths exploited by artists such as Kounellis, Mario Merz or Luciano Fabro? Not Van Munster's style either. What really attracts him is what Germano Celant, chief spokesman for the Arte Povera movement, called in 1969 "the physical, chemical and biological possibilities" of the earth. It was with these "possibilities" that Van Munster set to work.


For Van Munster, the earth is energy. A simple energy, which attaches itself to abstract images. An energy that emerges from the world of physical manifestations, but is not so easily visible. It comes from temperature differences, magnetic fields, voltage differences between electric currents and, quite literally, from the artist's own head. A prime example is the BRAINWAVES series: sinuous light sculptures created by the artist in 1995. That year, Van Munster went to hospital. He wanted to undergo an EEG (electroencephalogram), not because he was suffering from dizziness or headaches, but out of curiosity. He wants to see on paper the effect caused by the current in his head, how his brain reacts when exposed to different emotions. He thinks of feelings as simple as anger, pain, love, sexual arousal. But he is subjected to other tests. He is artificially hyperventilated, put to sleep and much more.


The result: hundreds of pages filled with undulating lines. He calls them his "bible". Even today, Van Munster draws from this bible and transforms these lines into light sculptures several meters high or on a human scale. The electrical currents emitted by his brain over twenty years ago are not manipulated. The artist does not use them to pass judgment of any kind, nor to issue moral or social commands. Van Munster consistently identifies himself, in Celant's words: "With the very substance of the natural event, such as the growth of a plant, the chemical reaction of an ore, the behavior of a river, snow, grass and soil, the fall of a weight". In this process of identification, Van Munster discovers himself: his body, his memory, his movements. And we discover them with him, as spectators.


Van Munster's electric currents always radiate out into the world: our world. The invisible of the human body has become matter. Perhaps there are other forces we don't yet know about. But this force is light, expressed in a work of art. This force is the heat expressed in a work of art. It's a pure force - also expressed in a work of art.

Lucette ter Borg (art critic, curator, novelist). Translation : The Langage Lab

Image above : Blade of grass with a lot of energy, Ede, 2004


Born in 1939 in Gorinchem, and died in Vlissingen in 2024 (Netherlands).

Lived and worked in Vlissingen (Netherlands).



Essentials 1972 - 2022, Hopstreet Gallery, Bussels/Deurle, Belgium

Kreuzlinien, dr. julius|ap, Berlin (DE) - with Willem Besselink, Netherlands


Headlines, Hopstreet Gallery, Brussels/Deurle, Belgium



Réflexions, Galerie Bacqueville, Lille, France



Into the Light, Kunstverein Friedberg, with Julius Stahl, Germany

In Motion , Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hardcore, Slewe Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands



EN | EN, Van den Berge Gallery, Goes, Netherlands

Between Dark and Light, Renate Bender Gallery, with Inge Dick, Munich, Germany

A Choice From the Studio, Galerie Ramakers, the Hague, Netherlands

Substance, dr. julius | ap, with Susan York, Berlin, Germany



Short Circuit Between Line and Light, Ardex, Witten, Germany



Transducer, dr. julius | ap, Berlin, with Julius Stahl, Germany

Key Works 1968 - 2016, Samuel Vanhoegaerden Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium



Hoffmann Gallery, In Between, Friedberg, Germany



Centre for International Light Art, Unna, Germany

Kortsluiting [Short Circuit], Ramakers Gallery, The Hague, Netherlands



Zwischen Plus und Minus, Galerie Van der Koelen, Mainz, Germany

40 jaar Lichtwerken,1973-heden, Galerie Van den Berge, Goes, Netherlands



Door tijd en ruimte [Through Time and Space], Ketelfactory, Schiedam (with Birthe Leemeijer), Netherlands



Leucht Zeichen, Kunstmuseum Celle, Celle, Germany

“Brainwaves” Galerie Art Affairs in New York, USA



Die Energie des Bildhauers [The Energy of the Sculptor], La Galleria

Dorothea van der Koelen, Venice, Italy



Quint Contemporary Arts, La Jolla, USA



Wilhelm Hack Museum, Ludwigshafen, Germany



Museum für Konkrete Kunst, Ingolstadt, Germany



Stedelijk Museum Roermond, Netherlands

Wilhelmina-ring III, Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede, Netherlands



MUHKA, Antwerp, Belgium



Atelier / Muzeum 340, Brussels, Belgium

Centre for International Light Art, Unna, Germany



E-Werk, Hallen für Kunst, Freiburg, Germany

Recent Museum of Contemporary Art, Sapporo, Japan



Haus für konstruktive und konkrete Kunst, Zurich, Switzerland

Provincial Museum Hasselt, Belgium



Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo/Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands

Museum für konkrete Kunst, Ingolstadt, Germany



Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen, Germany



Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands



Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Netherlands



Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands



Art Paris, Galerie Bacqueville, Grand Palais éphémère, Paris, France


Light, Galerie Lange + Pult, Zurich, Switzerland



Espace libéré, Centre d’art contemporain d’intérêt national, Mouans, France



Neon Delight, Centre for International Light Art, Unna, Germany

Lucht, Museum Kranenburgh, Bergen, Netherlands



Bauhaus and beyond, Galerie Ramakers, The Hague, Netherlands

Century Bauhaus, dr. julius | ap, Berlin, Germany

Immatérialité, Topographie de l'art, Paris, France



Let There Be Light, Sofie Van De Velde Gallery, Antwerp, Belgium

Verlicht Mij, Museum Ijsselstein, Netherlands

Über das Geistige in der Kunst, Museum für Konkrete Kunst, Ingolstadt, Germany



FarbeLicht LichtFarbe, Neuer Kunstverein Aschaffenburg, Germany



Prière De Toucher - The Touch of Art, Museum Tinguely, Basel, Switzerland

Snapshot of a Lager Order, de ketelfactory, Noletloodsen Schiedam, Netherlands

LICHT | LIGHT | LUMIÈRE, C. Grimaldis Gallery, Baltimore, USA

Konstruktion | Construction, Sammlung Schroth, Soest, Germany



Lekker licht, Centraal Museum Utrecht, Netherlands

Clouds, Mons, Eurepean Capitale of Culture, Belgium



LUMINEUX! DYNAMIC! Space and Vision in Art from today back to1913, Grand Palais Paris, Paris, France

Ik hou van Holland, Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, Netherlands



Who’s afraid of red, yellow and blue? Maison Rouge, Foundation Antoine de Galbert, Paris, France



Thrice upon a time, Magasin 3, Konsthall, Stockholm, Sweden

Beeld Hal Werk, Amsterdam, Netherlands



ContourLight, Mechelen, Belgium



Lichtkunst Aus Kunstlicht, Museum für Neue Kunst, Karlsruhe, Germany



UNTER NULL, Zentrum Industriekultur Nürnberg, Germany / Münchener Stadtmuseum, Munich, Germany



NOLI ME TANGERE, Musée Cantonal des Beaux Arts, Sion, Switzerland


ELECTRA, Musée d'Art Moderne de la Ville Paris, France



8e Biennale de Paris, Manifestation Internationale des Jeunes Artistes, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France



10e Biennale voor beeldhouwkunst, Middelheim, Antwerpen, Belgium

Nederlandse Beeldhouwkunst ’64-’69, Centraal Museum, Utrecht, Netherlands



Junge Kunst aus Holland, Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, Switzerland



Science Fiction, Kunsthalle, Bern, Switzerland



3e Exposition Internationale de Sculpture Contemporaine, Musée Rodin, Paris, France

5e Internationale beeldententoonstelling Sonsbeek ’66, Arnhem, Netherlands



4e Biennale de Paris, Manifestation Biennale et Internationale des Jeunes Artistes, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, Paris, France



Instituut voor Kunstnijverheidsonderwijs, Amsterdam, Netherlands



Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, Rotterdam, Netherlands




German Light Art Award, German œuvre prize for light art



Dutch Masters in the 21st Century); film, 15 minutes, Mediafonds and Fonds BKVB (also published as a dvd)



Wilhelmina-ring, Dutch œuvre prize for sculpture



Chabot Award, Anjerfonds, Rotterdam, Netherlands



Award for objects, Salon van de Maassteden, Schiedam, Netherlands



A. Schwarz award, with Berend Bodenkamp (1942)




Akademie voor Kunst en Vormgeving, 's Hertogenbosch, Netherlands



Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, Rotterdam, Netherlands



Ateliers '63, Haarlem, Netherlands

​COMMISSIONS (selection)


Brainwave Museum Wilhelm Morgner / Sammlung Schroth, Soest, Germany



Brainwave (Ratio), de ketelfactory, Nolet-loods, Schiedam, Netherlands



Brainwave, Château Le Rœulx, Le Rœulx, Belgium



Energiekreis [Energy Circle], Museum Haus Beda, Bitburg, Germany



Brainwave, Dutch embassy, Brussels, Belgium



Energiecirkel [Energy Circle], Mechelen, Belgium



Brainwave, ZfW-Bank, Frankfurt am Main, Germany



Brainwave, Council Office, Vught, Netherlands



Donau-Brücken-Projekt, Ingolstadt, Germany



Brainwave, Gorinchem, Netherlands



IK for Utrecht, Park Nieuweroord, Utrecht, Netherlands

IK, Sculpture Wilhelminaring, Apeldoorn, Netherlands



Energie-ring, Provincial Government Building Gelderland, Arnhem, Netherlands

Brainwave, Sparkasse, Ludwigshafen, Germany


​PUBLICATIONS (sélection)


IK island - 99publishers, ISBN 978-90-78670-32-2



Light | Licht - Jap Sam Books, ISBN 978-94-90322-25-0



The Energy of the Sculptor - Chorus Verlag, ISBN 3-931876-32-2

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