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Letter to Anne Wenzel

Philippe Van Cauteren, monograph 'Sweet Life, Anne Wenzel'

Last year I purchased your sculpture 'Untitled (red deer)' from 2005 for the collection of the museum of which I am artistic director. It took almost six months before I eventually decided to acquire the piece for the collection of the S.M.A.K. Not because I began to hesitate at a certain moment, but I believe that it is necessary to enter into a sort of ritual dialogue with a piece before acquiring it. During each confrontation with 'Untitled (stag)', I circled the piece with different unsettled thoughts, and became absorbed by the dark allure of the sculpture. Every time, this piece challenged me once again to consider it in a different manner. 'Untitled (stag)' can be described as ominous, seductive, dangerous, and menacing. The naïve romanticism of the deer is reduced to stacked pieces of fired clay. The idyll of the animal in the landscape - who is not familiar with Disney's charming scenes in Bambi? - is burned and destroyed. The sculpture 'Untitled (stag)' seems to be a freeze-frame of a moving image, a tragically edited moment. Presumably you derived the piece from the unavoidable kitsch that pervades the hunt and hunting trophies. But the drama is drawn towards a dark, sinister baroque. The sculpture thrusts upwards from below, threatens to escape its own materiality. The deer captive in its own drama. Its antlers, fur and entrails become a dark mass, a black gleaming conflagration. The idyll of the deer, a red deer, is sacrificed on an aseptic metal (industrial) pallet. The beauty of the drama or the lure of a catastrophe. Against the background of September the 11th, a curator friend even used the word "catastrophilia" to describe it. Black. Nearly all your sculptures and installations refuse colour, they absorb it in the menacing monochrome of black-fired ceramic. Black : new wave, Ad Reinhardt, minimal art, Joy Division, Kasimir Malevitch, oil and Sebastopol. Your sculptures are representations of images in decline. The naïve romantic ideal and the narrative lure of sentiments are hardened in representations, suggestions and enlargements. A deer becomes a monster. A sweet fairy-tale girl is transformed into a funereal statue. A landscape becomes an apocalyptic plane, blackened, tarnished and lost. You seek the aesthetics of darkness, the entrails of kitsch. And this based upon a material that has never before borne this darkness. Ceramics. I think of Delfts blue, whimsical figurines and Meissner porcelain. Small ceramic sculptures are like the silent witnesses or stage-props of the gloomy emptiness of the middle-class interior. It is seldom a material that carries meaning or pins its colours to the mast. In your sculptures the material is sublimated. It stands for what it is: baked burned earth. Dark and black. You translate the myths of yesterday into the dramas of today. Your sculptures are a visual account of the tragedy and the downfall of our Western culture. I hope that you are pleased that 'Untitled (red deer)' has found permanent accommodation in the S.M.A.K.