KERA Arts Story Search

Looking for events? Click here for the Go See DFW events calendar.

DMA Gets US Premiere of Tour of Belgian Artist Michael Borremans

by Jerome Weeks 28 Jan 2014 12:39 PM

Renowned Belgian realist/absurdist Michael Borremans is known for his classic technique and his disturbing images – in drawings, paintings and film. The most comprehensive survey of his work in 20 years comes to the DMA next year.


Painter and filmmaker Michael Borremans is known for drawing on great, classic precedents — the style of 18th century realists, as well Goya and Impressionists like Edgar Degas — to render alienated, mysterious contemporary scenes. Michael Borremans: as sweet as it gets will feature some 100 paintings, drawings films, the most comprehensive survey of the artist’s work in the past 20 years. It’s co-organized by the DMA and the Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels, and will go to Israel before coming to Dallas next year.

The full release:

Dallas, TX—January 28, 2014—In March 2015, the Dallas Museum of Art will present the U.S. premiere of a major traveling exhibition on the work of contemporary Belgian artist Michaël Borremans. Co-organized by the DMA and Centre for Fine Arts, Brussels (BOZAR) and curated by Jeffrey Grove, the DMA’s Senior Curator of Special Projects & Research, Michaël Borremans: As sweet as it gets is the most comprehensive survey of the artist’s career, bringing together paintings, drawings and films produced over the last 20 years. Featuring roughly 100 works, this exhibition provides compelling insight into the artist’s evolving practice by exploring the broad themes and visual references that Borremans brings to play in creating his psychologically charged, if strangely ambiguous, image world.

Since the late 1990s, when he first began to exhibit his paintings and drawings, Michael Borremans has created an improbably mature body of work that quickly captured international attention. This highly anticipated exhibition provides an overview of Borremans’ work spanning his entire career, featuring a complex and diverse selection of works in all media to illuminate the artist’s compelling approach to creating powerful tableaux of indeterminacy and mystery.

On view at the DMA from March 15 through July 5, 2015, the exhibition is composed of well-known and rarely exhibited works from private and public collections in Europe and the United States, including approximately 50 paintings, 45 drawings and five films. The carefully curated selection provides viewers with a singular opportunity to experience Borremans’ experimentations across media. Prior to its U.S. debut at the DMA, the exhibition will open in February 2014 at BOZAR in Brussels, and then travel to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art in Jerusalem in September 2014.

“Michaël Borremans’ work speaks to both a sense of history and an understanding of the present. We are delighted to share this comprehensive survey of his work with our community and those traveling to our city, and to partner with BOZAR to bring greater international attention to this artist’s innovative practice,” said Maxwell L.  Anderson, the DMA’s Eugene McDermott Director. “The DMA seeks to offer a context for contemporary art with our encyclopedic collection, and Borremans is both at home in a museum with strong holdings in European figurative painting and a provocateur archly disavowing painterly conventions of the 17th century forward.”

Borremans’ work often evokes sensations of dislocation and disruption with unconventional compositions, unsettling scenes and suggestive psychological spaces. In his paintings, Borremans employs hallucinatory symbols and signifiers while referencing great masters in art history, from Velázquez to Goya. Particularly in his drawings, which are more suggestively narrative than his paintings, Borremans places his figures in unknown states and locations that convey an indefinable sense of time and place. In this way, the work is saturated by the surrealist propensity to evade logical association, a trait he shares with countrymen including James Ensor, René Magritte and Marcel Broodthaers.

“Like Michaël Borremans himself, the title of his mid-career survey As sweet as it gets is at once optimistic and open, though possessed of potentially darker intentions,” said Grove. “As sweet as it gets may imply either the embrace of a sunny present or a resigned acceptance that things are as bad as they will ever get. The tense ambiguity lingering in that expression provides an appropriate metaphor for Michaël’s work, characterized as it is by subtle symmetries of stunning beauty and disturbing abjection, humor and despair, strength and fragility. Yet, no matter how allusive or illogical the scenes he creates, they are imbued with qualities that describe the human condition, a subject with which we can each identify.”

Highlights from the exhibition:

  •  Glass and Blood, 2001, is a drawing that rejects the didactic nature of conventional illustration.

Rendered with the fulsome and frilly coquettish quality Boucher and Fragonard brought to their confections depicting the laissez faire dames of the 18th-century bourgeoisie, these disembodied figures appear decorative. Like so many of the figures Borremans depicts, their expressions are benign, indicating they have no interior reality.

  • The Avoider, 2006, is Borremans’ first painting executed on a truly epic scale. Revealing both his training in photography and engagement with art history, this painting discloses the beauty and ambiguity that structures so much of his practice. Recalling Gustave Courbet’s The Meeting, 1854, Borremans’ rendition conflates the image of a stylish flâneur of the city with that of a humble country shepherd.
  • Trickland, 2002, is a landscape painting in which the distorted scale of a large figure hovering over a miniature pastoral scene enforces the illogical relationships and shifting levels of reality that typify Borremans’ practice. This work is one in the “Trickland” series, which is composed of six paintings that read sequentially like a film and presage Borremans first experiments with moving images.
  • The Storm, 2006, is a film that exemplifies the evolution of Borremans’ process. While many of his early paintings were based on found photographs and film stills, Borremans has matured into a filmmaker who creates moving images that mimic paintings. This silent film directly connects to the stillness and muted quality in his paintings.
  • The Devil’s Dress, 2011, acknowledges Borremans’ dialogue with previous art historical epochs; analogies to Edouard Manet’s The Dead Toreador, 1864, are all but unavoidable. Yet, the unconventional composition, curious narrative and suggestive psychological space captured in the painting connect the work not only to the rich history of Belgian surrealism but to Borremans’ own interest in the Absurd.

About Michaël Borremans

Belgian artist Michaël Borremans (b. 1963) obtained a Master of Fine Arts from the Hogeschool voor Kunst en Wetenschappen Sint-Lucas Gent, with a specialization in engraving. Until well into his 30s, he worked as an art teacher, engraver and photographer. He produced his first professional drawings in the late 1990s, and more recently incorporated painting into his practice. In the past two decades, Borremans has built a mature body of work, garnering international attention.

Borremans’ work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at several international museums, including the Museum für Gegenwartskunst in Basel, Switzerland (2004); S.M.A.K. in Ghent, Belgium (2005); La Maison Rouge in Paris (2006); the Kestner Gesellschaft in Hannover, Denmark (2009); the Museum of Contemporary Art, Denver (2010); and the Kunsthalle Helsinki (2011).

His artwork is included in the permanent collections of many institutions, including S.M.A.K., Ghent, Belgium; The Art Institute of Chicago; The Israel Museum, Jerusalem; Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles;  the Museum of Modern Art, New York; National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; and the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

He is represented by David Zwirner Gallery in New York and Zeno X Gallery in Antwerp, Belgium.


Exhibition Organization and Tour

Michaël Borremans: As sweet as it gets is curated by Jeffrey Grove, Senior Curator of Special Projects & Research at the DMA.

The exhibition tour includes:

  • The Centre for Fine Arts (BOZAR), Brussels, Belgium (February 22–March 8, 2014)
  • Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Jerusalem, Israel (September 4, 2014–January 31, 2015)
  • Dallas Museum of Art, Dallas, Texas (March 15–July 5, 2015)


Exhibition Catalogue

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. Featuring nearly 200 works created over a 14-year period, this large-scale publication includes many works not previously reproduced in books or catalogues, offering the most complete overview of Borremans’ oeuvre to date. The book includes excerpts from a series of in-depth interviews between Grove and Borremans, an insightful introductory essay by Grove, and 59 individual essays by authors, curators, filmmakers and musicians, including David Lynch, Katerina Gregos, Thomas Gunzig, Hans Rudolf Reust, David Van Reybrouck, Caroline Lamarche, Marc Didden, Michael Amy, Jan Hoet and Mauro Pawlowski. The artist has been closely involved in the design of this publication.