There is something special about an exhibition dedicated to unnamed artists. Naming (and name-dropping) is a classic way of presenting a given piece, providing short-cuts and creating a context by evoking groups, movements and parallels to facilitate its understanding. Not to mention, names sell.

by Aleksandra Eriksson Pogorzelska

That’s why I really enjoyed the idea behind Anonymous, an exhibition by Jean-Baptiste Bernadet and Xavier Noiret-Thomé and curated by Devrim Bayar, which opened yesterday at the Brussels concept-store Hunting & Collecting. Both painters got caught into a game of buying paintings  at flea markets for 5-10 EUR (without interacting with each other until this exhibition), the only rule being the price and that the pieces should trigger a special interest in the artists.

The exhibition shows those finds mixed with the artists’ own, mostly early, works. As the latter are not identified as such it is up to the viewer to set ‘the real deal’ apart from thrift treasures. The show is inspired by Danish painters Asger Jorn and Per Kirkeby, who played with the idea of upgrading bad paintings found in flea markets into the ‘real’  art market.

As Xavier Noiret-Thomé recalled when showing me through the exhibition, many important art pieces cannot be attributed to anyone specific – he uses the example of the Louvre, which has more works by anonymous artists than by known artists. The exhibition is a way to pay tribute to the anonymous artists.

The exhibition raises questions about the value of art and about what constitutes a piece of art. The paintings presented yesterday to Brussels’ downtown artsy crowd  could just as well have ended up in a trash bin at place du Jeu de balle after the end of the Sunday market. When talking to Xavier, it is clear that he truly appreciates his findings, for aesthetics and other reasons (like the sincerity of the motifs, or because they are funny). Also, the “found” paintings in the show are not for sale – but the artists’ own work is. The value of the anonymous paintings exhibited at Hunting & Collecting may not be as straightforward to all as it is to their owners. Some will be jealous, others will find that it is not art.

I left the exhibition thinking of Roman Abramovich, who in 2008 made himself a name as a collector by buying Lucian Freud’s Benefits Supervisor Sleeping for $33.6 million, the largest sum ever spent on a piece by a living artist. In the lapse of 24 hours, he had also acquired Francis Bacon’s Triptych for $86.3 million, the largest sum of money paid at an auction for a 20th-century work of art. But some strongly criticised those purchases, accusing him of championing speculation and forgoing the art of collecting. Indeed, with that kind of money, one can buy taste (or what is currently thought as taste). And on the contrary, the smaller the budget, the larger the need for hunting and selecting, choosing one’s treasures according to personal liking and what we call the “eye” rather than going for big names.

Hunting and Collecting

Exhibition 27th April until 14th May

Jean-Baptiste Bernadet

Xavier Noiret-Thomé


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