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Xavier Hufkens

Walter Swennen
The Phantom of Painting

A travelling exhibition and the first overview of the artist’s work in a German museum.

2 June—29 August 2021
Kunstmuseum Bonn, Bonn, Germany

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The traveling exhibition, The Phantom of Painting is the first overview of Walter Swennen's oeuvre in a German museum, with some 65 paintings from the early 1980s to the present. The survey will later travel to Kunstmuseum Den Haag and the Kunstmuseum Winterthur.

From the very beginning, painting and text have formed an inseparable, yet always paradoxical unity in Walter Swennen’s work. The artist first became known in the 1960s as a poet of the Beat generation in the circle of the Brussels bohemians around Marcel Broodthaers and only started painting in the early 1980s. However, for Swennen, it is never about the verbalization of the picture, but rather about the exact opposite, i.e. the limits of language and definitions beyond which painting moves as a practice which follows its own logic, which is contradictory per se.

With his attitude to conceptually test the possibilities, problems and limits of the painting, he belongs in line with painters like the Belgian Raoul de Keyser and the Dutchman René Daniëls, while being the most experimental among them. In his search for the greatest possible heterogeneity, he always remains committed to his fundamental goal of creating images that cannot be understood because they eventually act as traps. All the encryptions, symbols and iconographic trails in his paintings are thus also instruments with which Swennen protects the autonomy of painting.