Berlinde De Bruyckere

The spring exhibition of the Sara Hildén Art Museum presented an overview of the moving works of the sculptor Berlinde De Bruyckere. In the centenary year of the Finnish Civil War, the exhibition offered an opportunity to confront human suffering and vulnerability.

The Belgian artist Berlinde De Bruyckere (b. 1964) is a sculptor and a painter. She lives and works in the city of her birth, Ghent in Flanders, which experienced some of the most destructive fighting in the First World War. In the year 2000, the In Flanders Fields Museum commissioned De Bruyckere to make a work bearing its own name in which casts of dead horses – the innocent victims of war – served as a metaphor for suffering and the loss of human life. Another horse-themed work was to become De Bruyckere’s artistic breakthrough three years later at the Venice Biennale and she has continued to address this topic ever since. The horse works seen at the Sara Hildén Art Museum also serve as a reminder of the events of the Finnish Civil War 100 years ago.

Berlinde De Bruyckere’s art is about life and death. She seeks beauty in what are generally seen as losses and uses her works to express the painful, difficult matters that are deeply rooted in human existence. De Bruyckere wants her works to offer compassion and comfort. The origins of her art lie in the history of painting, in Christian iconography, literature and ancient mythology. She has been using wax since 1996. Her training as a painter is evident in the multiple layers of paint on her wax sculptures. One specific original model for them is the virtuoso rendering of skin and flesh in the paintings of the Renaissance artist Lucas Cranach the Elder (1472–1553).

In 2013, De Bruyckere was chosen to represent Belgium at the 55th Venice Biennale with Kreupelhout–Cripplewood, 2012–2013, a work made in collaboration with the Nobel Prize novelist J. M. Coetzee. The giant fallen elm tree, painted in flesh colored wax, bandaged like a wounded body, refers to the patron saint of Venice, St. Sebastian. The martyr has often been depicted tied to a tree, pierced by arrows, but feeling no pain and with a beatific expression on his face. The sculptures Embalmed–Twins I–II, 2017, exhibited at the Sara Hildén Art Museum, are a continuation of this earlier theme, and began as two intertwined elm trees brought down together in a storm.

It almost seemed a lily II, 2017, which takes its name from one of Ovid’s Metamorphoses: Apollo and Hyacinthus, was the latest acquisition to the international collection of the Sara Hildén Foundation. This relief work is one of a series of flower works that combine sexuality and Christian symbolism, growth and decay, Eros and Thanatos. The two latest works in the series are shown in public for the first time. It almost seemed a lily IV, 2017 takes as its subject the wilting lily flower and Pioenen, 2017 is a rendering of the frail petals of the peony.

Berlinde De Bruyckere’s exhibition carried on the Sara Hildén Art Museum’s use of its own collection to highlight international artists and phenomena in contemporary art. This was De Bruyckere’s first solo exhibition in Finland.