Installation view of “Double Exposition,” WIELS, Brussels, Belgium, 2022–23. Photo: We Document Art

Sculpture Makes the Space: A Conversation with Didier Vermeiren

For nearly five decades, Didier Vermeiren has been producing works that deal with sculpture’s long-term subordinate—the plinth. His approach, which is rigorous, investigative, and hinges on traditional materials and processes, involves exploring structure, placement, distribution, and links with the history of sculpture. Since the production of his earliest replications—the hollow, unadorned, and painted wood boxes used to display historical and modern works in museums—his work has encompassed acts of doubling and configurations in which cast bases support their molds. His increasingly complex recent pieces combine multiple renditions of the plinth into a single composition.

Vermeiren’s work acknowledges his early influences, who sought to break with tradition, but bypasses that idea to re-establish links with the past through materials, processes, and forms. Unlike conceptual artists, Vermeiren rejects the notion that the idea outweighs the importance of the art object. In Elsa Cayo’s film 123 plans sur la sculpture de Didier Vermeiren (1988), he says: “The form is not more significant than the material, and the material is not more significant than the form; in the end it is a unit…the sculpture exists at the same time as the idea. The idea is the sculpture, and the sculpture is the idea.” Speaking to Michel Gauthier, Centre Pompidou curator at the Herbert Foundation in Ghent, in 2021, Vermeiren explained how he had learned the history of sculpture in reverse: Carl Andre showed him Brancusi, who showed him Rodin, who took him to Carpeaux, and then further back into the 18th century and beyond. Mildly humorous for its defiance of how history is normally taught, this statement underlines the experience of all artists, who draw on individual journeys through the past.

John Gayer: Some called “Double Exposition,” your recent survey at WIELS in Brussels, Belgium, a retrospective, but I understand you didn’t see it that way. Why?
Didier Vermeiren: In a way, it was a retrospective because the work spanned nearly five decades. But then again, it wasn’t a retrospective because it was not organized chronologically. I did not want to start with what I did when I was young and conclude with today. I’m still alive, which is another reason. I plan to make more works. . .

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