Koen Vanmechelen. The Worth of Life


Institutional Communication Service

28 June 2019

From Friday 4 October 2019 to Sunday 2 February 2020 at the Teatro dell’architettura Mendrisio-USI  opens the exhibition “KOEN VANMECHELEN - THE WORTH OF LIFE - 1982/2019” promoted by the Fondazione Teatro dell’architettura. An extensive review over more than sixty-five works by the artist Koen Vanmechelen: sculptures, paintings, neon, lambda prints and installations set up outside and in the three floors of theTeatro dell’architettura Mendrisio, the new campus building designed by architect Mario Botta.


Artist of international renown based in Belgium, sculptor, painter, performer, filmmaker and scholar, as well as a human rights activist, Koen Vanmechelen has centered his work as an artist on the relation between nature and culture. Moreover - and all throughout the course of an almost forty-years-long journey - he has rounded out his projects for the hybridization of either animals or plants with the contamination of figurative arts, of materials and media, making formal proliferation within conceptual complexity his own, personal earmark on a creative universe that is as unique as it is unmistakable. His art is at the same time the expression of both an aesthetic of wonder and an ethic that is rooted in the very worth of life. From the first wooden sculptures in the 80’s, to a vast project of research - aimed at the generation of new breeds of poultry - to the recent opening of a tremendous biodiversity park called LABIOMISTA, where great architectures and natural landscapes are inhabited by installations, artworks and birds of the most disparate kinds.
“Koen Vanmechelen - The Worth of Life – 1982/2019” curated by Didi Bozzini, is an exhibition of more than sixty-five pieces - which were all realized between 1982 and 2019 - intended to highlight the more strictly plastic aspects of this artist’s body of work, with particular regards to his neo-baroque disposition. 
Vanmechelen’s imagination - which orbits around the figure of the chicken as an incarnate symbol of bio-cultural evolution - feeds in fact on iconographic repetitions and semantic accumulations, on metaphors and metamorphoses, on theatrics and allegories, all in order to create a protean visual universe, unsettled and uneven - like seed-pearl - namely baroque.
A universe of powerful emotional impact, all trodden in its extension by the very energy of life as much as by the exuberance of creative gesture, where the intellect’s enticement is above all a consequence of the aesthetic involvement and visceral appeal that the transmutation of natural forms into chimeric images exerts upon the eye.
For Vanmechelen sees art as a practice of re-invention of nature, a privileged access door to its secrets and essential requirement to its preservation. And, symmetrically, he calls upon science, almost as if it were a branch of poetry, to somehow magically turn his reveries’ visions into reality. 


Koen Vanmechelen (1965) is a Flemish artist or - more precisely - an artist from Limburg. Which is to say, hailing from the very region - embedded in between Westphalia, Brabant and the Netherlands - that gave birth to Bruegel, Bosch and Rubens. The same area where also Joseph Beuys was born a few centuries later. He employs a diversity of approaches to his cross-disciplinary practice, from painting and sculpture, to video and installations, to drawing and glasswork, in addition to his living art initiatives.
Across the last decade, Vanmechelen has collaborated with scientists from different disciplines. His research and work earned him an honorary doctorate from the University of Hasselt in 2010, and the Golden Nica Hybrid Art award in 2013. His ongoing investigations, with the support of project partners, led to the creation of the Open University of Diversity, which invites people from different fields of study and practice to engage in a dialogue and new projects that examine ideas of diversity. In 2019, Vanmechelen opens LABIOMISTA, a monumental, multi-faceted project that brings together the vital threads of his work and establishes new opportunities for collaboration and dialogue on some of the most pressing and challenging social issues of contemporary society. The heart of LABIOMISTA is the artist’s newly built 53,000-square-foot studio, built by acclaimed Swiss architect Mario Botta.
Vanmechelen has shown in major institutions across the world, including The National Gallery London, Victoria and Albert Museum (London), Museum Kunst Palast (Düsseldorf), Venice Projects (Venice), Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ (Amsterdam), Museum of Art and Design (New York), Pushkin Museum (Moscow), and across Belgium, including at the Verbeke Foundation, Watou, Museum M and Z33. In 2015, he participated in the Havana Biennale, where his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project was responsible for reintroducing an extinct species of chicken back to Cuba.


“Koen Vanmechelen - The Worth of Life - 1982/2019”
edited by Didi Bozzini
Mendrisio Academy Press / Silvana Editoriale
27 x 27 cm, 144 pages
100 illustrations, b/n and colour
Bilingual edition ITA/ENG
Price at the exhibition 30 CHF/Euro
Price in bookshops 40 CHF/Euro

Introduced by Mario Botta, the book presents critical essays by curator Didi Bozzini together with others, by historian James Putnam and by biochemist Marcus Thelen. An interview with the artist by Pierluigi Panza and an autobiographical essay by Koen Vanmechelen follow. It also contains two iconographic sections: the images of the artworks shown and a photo album with images of the exhibition at the Teatro dell’architettura Mendrisio.


Born in 1961 in Parma, where he now resides after 20 years spent living in Paris. Already a researcher at the Université de la Sorbonne and a professor of philosophy, he has subsequently worked as an art critic and independent curator collaborating with numerous private galleries and public institutions as: the Centre Pompidou of Paris, the french Institut National de l’Audiovisuel, the Musée de la Vieille Charité in Marseille, the Fotografiska Museet of Stockholm, the Musée Vouland in Avignon, the Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie in Arles, the Macro Museum in Rome and the Brescia Musei foundation. He has recently curated the exhibition entitled The Third Day at Palazzo del Governatore in Parma. He has penned various monographic publications on both modern (Goya) and contemporary artists (Alighiero Boetti and Sol LeWitt among others). The latest of these look at the work of the photographer Roger Ballen (“Asylum of the Birds” with Thames and Hudson – New York and “The House Project” with Odee – London). His last essay to date was published by Aliberti under the title of “Abbecedario Eretico”.


“Koen Vanmechelen - The Worth of Life - 1982/2019”
4 October 2019 – 2 February 2020
Curated by Didi Bozzini

Exhibition promoted by Fondazione Teatro dell’architettura
Teatro dell’architettura Mendrisio
Via Turconi 25
6850 Mendrisio, Svizzera

Press preview: Wednesday 2 October, 11.30 am
Exhibition opening by invitation: Thursday 3 October 2019, 7.30 pm

For accreditation and press materials about the exhibition:
USI Communications and Media Service
E-mail:  [email protected] 
For Italy: ddl studio | T +39 02 8905.2365
Alessandra de Antonellis | E-mail: [email protected] | T +39 339 3637.388
Ilaria Bolognesi | E-mail: [email protected] | T +39 339 1287.840





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