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JAN VAN MUNSTER

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

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THE FULLNESS OF ENERGY

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

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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.

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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

CV

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

Lived and worked in Vlissingen (Netherlands).

​EXPOSITIONS PERSONNELLES (sélection) / SOLO SHOWS (selection)

2022

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

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

2021

Headlines, Hopstreet Gallery, Brussels/Deurle, Belgium

 

2020

Réflexions, Galerie Bacqueville, Lille, France

 

2019

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

In Motion , Kröller-Müller Museum, Otterlo, Netherlands

Hardcore, Slewe Gallery, Amsterdam, Netherlands

 

2018

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

 

2017

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

 

2016

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

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

 

2015

Hoffmann Gallery, In Between, Friedberg, Germany

 

2014

Centre for International Light Art, Unna, Germany

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

 

2013

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

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

 

2012

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

 

2009

Leucht Zeichen, Kunstmuseum Celle, Celle, Germany

“Brainwaves” Galerie Art Affairs in New York, USA

 

2006

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

Dorothea van der Koelen, Venice, Italy

 

2005

Quint Contemporary Arts, La Jolla, USA

 

2004

Wilhelm Hack Museum, Ludwigshafen, Germany

 

2003

Museum für Konkrete Kunst, Ingolstadt, Germany

 

2002

Stedelijk Museum Roermond, Netherlands

Wilhelmina-ring III, Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Enschede, Netherlands

 

2001

MUHKA, Antwerp, Belgium

 

2000

Atelier / Muzeum 340, Brussels, Belgium

Centre for International Light Art, Unna, Germany

 

1998

E-Werk, Hallen für Kunst, Freiburg, Germany

Recent Museum of Contemporary Art, Sapporo, Japan

 

1993

Haus für konstruktive und konkrete Kunst, Zurich, Switzerland

Provincial Museum Hasselt, Belgium

 

1988

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

Museum für konkrete Kunst, Ingolstadt, Germany

 

1987

Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Ludwigshafen, Germany

 

1972

Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, Rotterdam, Netherlands

 

1970

Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, Netherlands

 

1969

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands

EXPOSITIONS COLLECTIVES (sélection) / GROUP SHOWS (selection)

2024

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

2022

Light, Galerie Lange + Pult, Zurich, Switzerland

 

2021

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

 

2020

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

Lucht, Museum Kranenburgh, Bergen, Netherlands

 

2019

Bauhaus and beyond, Galerie Ramakers, The Hague, Netherlands

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

Immatérialité, Topographie de l'art, Paris, France

 

2018

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

 

2017

FarbeLicht LichtFarbe, Neuer Kunstverein Aschaffenburg, Germany

 

2016

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

 

2015

Lekker licht, Centraal Museum Utrecht, Netherlands

Clouds, Mons, Eurepean Capitale of Culture, Belgium

 

2013

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

Ik hou van Holland, Stedelijk Museum Schiedam, Netherlands

 

2012

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

 

2010

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

Beeld Hal Werk, Amsterdam, Netherlands

 

2009

ContourLight, Mechelen, Belgium

 

2005

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

 

1991

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

 

1990

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

1983

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

 

1973

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

 

1969

10e Biennale voor beeldhouwkunst, Middelheim, Antwerpen, Belgium

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

 

1968

Junge Kunst aus Holland, Kunsthalle Bern, Bern, Switzerland

 

1967

Science Fiction, Kunsthalle, Bern, Switzerland

 

1966

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

5e Internationale beeldententoonstelling Sonsbeek ’66, Arnhem, Netherlands

 

1965

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

FORMATION

1957-1960

Instituut voor Kunstnijverheidsonderwijs, Amsterdam, Netherlands

 

1955-1957

Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, Rotterdam, Netherlands

 

​PRIX / AWARDS

2020

German Light Art Award, German œuvre prize for light art

 

2011

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

 

2003

Wilhelmina-ring, Dutch œuvre prize for sculpture

 

1971

Chabot Award, Anjerfonds, Rotterdam, Netherlands

 

1969

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

 

1966

A. Schwarz award, with Berend Bodenkamp (1942)

 

​ENSEIGNEMENT / TEACHING

1978-1988

Akademie voor Kunst en Vormgeving, 's Hertogenbosch, Netherlands

 

1973

Academie van Beeldende Kunsten, Rotterdam, Netherlands

 

1970-1973

Ateliers '63, Haarlem, Netherlands

​COMMISSIONS (selection)

2018

Brainwave Museum Wilhelm Morgner / Sammlung Schroth, Soest, Germany

 

2016

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

 

2015

Brainwave, Château Le Rœulx, Le Rœulx, Belgium

 

2012

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

 

2010

Brainwave, Dutch embassy, Brussels, Belgium

 

2009

Energiecirkel [Energy Circle], Mechelen, Belgium

 

2008

Brainwave, ZfW-Bank, Frankfurt am Main, Germany

 

2006

Brainwave, Council Office, Vught, Netherlands

 

2006

Donau-Brücken-Projekt, Ingolstadt, Germany

 

2005

Brainwave, Gorinchem, Netherlands

 

2003

IK for Utrecht, Park Nieuweroord, Utrecht, Netherlands

IK, Sculpture Wilhelminaring, Apeldoorn, Netherlands

 

2002

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

Brainwave, Sparkasse, Ludwigshafen, Germany

 

​PUBLICATIONS (sélection)

2013

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

 

2012

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

 

2001

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

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