Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

Charles Burns exhibition in Leuven

I had tried twice over the Christmas holidays to get to the Charles Burns exhibition at the M Museum in Leuven, stymied both times by finding it closed. Yesterday I realised that it only runs until next weekend, so I rushed into town to catch it before it was too late. The only work of Burns' that I had actually read was the acclaimed Black Hole, but that was enough to make me want more.

Well, I was very satisfied. There are only in fact three rooms featuring Burns' work, and only one of those is a normal museum exhibition room, featuring original artwork for Black Hole, and for Burns' other strips such as El Borbah, Big Baby and Dog Boy, few of which I knew much about but all seemed to tie into his obsessions with adoescence, the boundaries between humanity and animals or machines, and putting everything into stark black and white images. (Often when we say 'black and white' we mean 'grayscale', but not in Burns' case.)

The main exhibition room is dominated by a mural drawn by Burns specially for Leuven. I was a bit surprised that a lot of the other visitors appeared to be going clockwise round the cases, which is of course useless if you are trying to follow a story from start to finish. I was also surprised by the young age of some of the visitors - not all of Burns' work is really suitable for children, and some is pretty graphic (in an ugh! way rather than a sexy way). I guess if you are in the habit of taking the kids to a modern art exhibition at the weekend you take it in your stride.

What I had not reallised at all was that there are a number of Belgian links to Burns' career, which perhaps explains why the exhibition is taking place in Leuven. The middle and smallest of the exhibition rooms shows a documentary film about Burns' work as a designer of The Hard Nut, a much scarier version of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker, which was premiered at La Monnaie/De Munt in Brussels in 1991. Burns is also a contributor to a French film called Peur(s) du Noir (France not being that far from Belgium), and indeed his segment was on continuous play in the third exhibition room. And he takes a particular interest in Hergé's Tintin work to the extent that the cover of his newest book, X'ed Out, is a pretty obvious homage to The Shooting Star.

I thought this showed an imaginative use of the museum's space, with two of the three rooms dominated by dynamic exhibits (some other Burns material fills the space behind the screen where the segment from Peur(s) du Noir is being shown; this includes the OK Cola cans and marketing and the famous "Somebody's Watching" Time cover from 1991 - especially appropriate for me since it was Time that put me onto Burns in the first place). Well worth an afternoon out and if any you you are with reach of Leuven in the remaining week of this exhibition I strongly recommend it.

I took the time to wander through the other three temporary exhibitions in the museum. None of them grabbed me in the same way as Burns; Patrick Van Caeckenbergh has made some odd sculptures from everyday objects (the nearly headless penguin is the one that sticks in my mind); Wannes Goetschalcks has filmed himself doing things in a box, which is great if you like films about people doing things on their own in boxes; and Christoph Fink has put on display his own personal and frankly incomprehensible notation of journeys he has made, apparently to honour the great geographer Mercator (he of the projection) who was born in 1512 and did some of his early work in Leuven.

I will follow up a bit on Mercator; the library at the Arenberg campus of Leuven university is staging an exhibition about him starting later this month, and Prince Philippe and Pricess Mathilda are making an appearance at a ceremony at his birthplace today (the actual anniversary appears to be tomorrow). I might even struggle up to Sint-Niklaas, though the Mercator museum there seems with exquisite timing to have closed the main exhibit for renovations, while attempting to tempt the visitor with temporary exhibitions. Well, it's not that far away.
Tags: writer: charles burns
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