Beyond the Picturesque

Curated by Steven Jacobs and Frank Maes
S.M.A.K., Gent, Belgium

Marcel Berlanger , Marc De Blieck, Damien De Lepeleire, Alexis Destoop, Robert Devriendt, Geert Goiris, Ellen Harvey, Sylvia Henrich, Axel Hütte, Jan Kempenaers, Jussi Kivi, Mark Klett, Oliver Lutz,  Rindfleisch/Rapedius, Katrin Sigurdardottir, Joel Sternfeld, Monica Studer / Christoph van den Berg, Richard Sympson, John Timberlake, Mungo Thomson, Mario Garcia Torres, Wouter Verhoeven, Christian Vetter

April 23 – August 4, 2009

The concept of ‘the picturesque’ originated in the 18th century and was closely linked from the very start to that of the English landscape garden, which traded in the strict geometry of the French garden for a carefully recreated and staged image of nature. The term ‘picturesque’ refers to a certain kind of landscape that was considered suitable as a subject for a painting, as well as to a part of reality that could be looked upon as if it were a painting. It is remarkable that a lot of contemporary artists are fascinated by the hybrid landscape in which the differences between centre and periphery, between city and countryside and between nature and culture are no longer clearly defined. Furthermore, the present natural landscape is to a large extent and on a global scale colonized and domesticated by means of a worldwide spread of images in the form of works of art and all kinds of media images of landscapes in film, television, tourism, etc. The exhibition in the S.M.A.K. wants to investigate how the concept of ‘the picturesque’ can still (or again) be applied to artistic interpretations of the present landscape. This exhibition subsequently traveled to MARTa Herford, Germany.

Observations Relative Chiefly to Picturesque Beauty (commissioned by S.M.A.K.)

An evaluation of the Citadel Park surrounding S.M.A.K. in accordance with the rules of picturesque beauty set forth by English Reverend William Gilpin (1724-1804) in his guidebooks, which popularized the term “picturesque.”

A short illustrated guide to the Citadel Park (built in 1913), purportedly written by Gilpin in 1799, was distributed to inhabitants of all the buildings surrounding the park. The guide was also available in English and Dutch translation inside SMAK, along with an “archive” of watercolors and notes from Gilpin’s fictional visit. The seven sites illustrated and evaluated in the guide were marked by signs, and tours of the park were offered, in collaboration with Alex McKay, using his collection of Claude Glasses (convex dark mirrors used for landscape appreciation in the 18th Century) to view the park.

To see the full Archive. 

Read Guide to the Citadel Park

Exhibition Catalog Available

View Exhibition Catalog Excerpt

The Room of Sublime Wallpaper (I), 2008

Angled mirrors hung over newspaper on the back wall of an 8ft x 11 ft. (2.44 x 3.35 m) room reflect the landscape painted on the two side walls. The paintings on the two side walls are imperfect mirror images of each other. The viewer’s reflection only becomes visible upon entering the room.