The SOLO presentations at Art Brussels are ambitious, individual projects dedicated to the work of a single artist. At Art Brussels 2019, Antwerp-based Base-Alpha Gallery hosted a SOLO exhibition by Belgian artist Nadia Naveau, known for her figurative sculptures. She is currently presenting Let’s Play It By Ear at the Dhondt-Dhaenens Museum (MDD) in Deurle. As part of Art Brussels Insights, we caught up with her to discuss this exhibition.
Conversation with Nadia Naveau
by Louis-Philippe Van Eeckhoutte
You currently have a solo exhibition on view at the Dhondt-Dhaenens Museum (MDD). Can you give us some insights about the exhibition?
The exhibition at Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens includes a newly created, evocative body of work, based on new sculptures combined with existing works in plaster. I had literally and figuratively started working on the idea of a retrospective. Instead of assembling existing works, I decided to reproduce sculptures in white plaster that span the last twenty years. Where the mould was no longer completely available, new sculptural elements were freely added. When placed on a new pedestal, some of these sculptures thus acquire a monumental allure. Others take on different meaning following a change in scale. I took my inspiration from the nineteenth-century Parisian salons. At that time, many sculptures were shown in plaster, after which buyers ordered the final work made to measure and in the material of their choice. As a relatively inexpensive and light material, plaster was an alternative to the labour-intensive and time-consuming process of creating sculptures in such luxurious materials as marble and bronze. This white, baroque-like groupage contrasts strongly with the stately central space where a number of original sculptures are staged in a peculiar green, niche-shaped structure.
For your solo at MDD you reproduced sculptures in white plaster spanning a period of the last twenty years. How was the experience of looking back at this period and revisiting your work?
It was both confronting and enlightening. ‘Stripping’ all the images down to their essence and showing them almost naked was surprising to me. In the initial process in clay, I also work in a single colour, in one material. Contrasts are created by removing, adding or scratching, drawing and kneading. If I decide to cast a sculpture in a certain material, this gives the sculpture a first character. Ceramics or epoxy each give the image a totally different existence. A second major influence is colour. By adding colour, even if it is in the glaze, in plasticine or in textile, the image acquires a different connotation. By reducing all images to their essence for this exhibition, I was able to create a nice interaction between the different periods, and I realized that they also stand out in their purity.
What would you say is Belgium’s main appeal for creatives?
There is a Belgian hunger for quality. In all fields of this approach to life, quality is very important. Belgium, and Antwerp in particular, where I live, is also the birthplace of many internationally acclaimed artists, architects, designers and other creatives. To this day, the Academy of Fine Arts still attracts creatives. The city still offers opportunities for artists to invest in their beliefs: it is a compact melting pot of diverse disciplines, which often results in energetic crossovers. This can be a 24/7 way of life if you want it to be.
At Art Brussels, you had a solo presentation with Base-Alpha Gallery. What does the fair mean to you?
This year, I saw Art Brussels as a try-out for my museum exhibition. On a smaller scale, I was able to estimate the impact of my installation. I have been at Art Brussels for about ten years with my gallery, Base-Alpha Gallery. It is very important for an artist to reach such a large audience in such a limited time span.
What new projects are coming up for you?
I will be working on a new show for De Warande in Turnhout in 2021, for which I will create a sculptural monograph covering the past 20 years.
Nadia Naveau studied sculpture at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and the Higher Institute for Fine Arts (HISK) in Ghent. She lives and works in Antwerp. Her work has been exhibited at the Middelheim Museum, M HKA, Beyond Baroque in Los Angeles and the Stedelijk Museum ‘s-Hertogenbosch, among others. In 2007, her participation in Le Salon du Plaisir was part of the Provincial Prize for Visual Arts, Fabiolazaal, Antwerp. In 2018, her work was included in the Sanguine/Bloedrood, exhibition curated by Luc Tuymans at the M HKA.
Images in order of appearance:
Installation view, Nadia Naveau: Let’s Play It By Ear, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, 2019
Photo: Rik Vannevel, MDDInstallation view, Nadia Naveau: Let’s Play It By Ear, Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens, Deurle, 2019
Installation view of Base Alpha Gallery stand at Art Brussels 2019