Pol Bury, whose body of work is so easy to recognise, developed a highly personal and precise process, far from any outside influences. Compared to other kinetic artists, he opted for slow movement, one that is imperceptible. This slowness has more to do with the expansion of space than the expansion of time. “Speed limits space,” wrote Bury, “while slowness multiplies it.” This appropriation of space is created by the ambiguity between what is moving and what is stationary. As the time spent looking at the work increases, the place taken by the sculpture in the room expands. Apparently, this poetic expansion is precisely what makes Bury’s work so fascinating.
When standing in front of one of his works, every visitor wonders: is this moving “thing”, really moving? Is my eye not deceiving me? And if it is moving, does it make me uncomfortable or am I feeling a relaxing rocking sensation? Is this worrying, funny, humourous or oppressive? Nothing is simple in front of these simple shapes put together by the artist.
In 2007, the Derom gallery organised a retrospective exhibition on Pol Bury (1922-2005) featuring more than one hundred works. The same gallery arranged the beautiful exhibition of mobile fountains in the gardens of the van Buuren Museum. Today’s exhibition of museum quality brings together 60 works spanning the period from 1953 to 2006, supported by three very interesting documentaries (1973, 1979 and 2003) screened in an upstairs room.
Six months into his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts in Mons, Pol Bury met Achille Chavée in a café. This was in 1938, when Achille Chavée was a lawyer, communist and a poet. Through him, Bury discovered surrealism. This discovery rocked the young artist’s world, and not merely with regard to the visual arts, also through surrealist literature. He would always keep a particular subversive mind, with lots of humour. Chavée introduced him to Magritte, and Bury began painting like him, and also like Tanguy. In 1946, he took part in the International Surrealist Exhibition, together with Magritte, Arp, Dominguez, Ernst and de Chirico. One year later, he broke away from the Surrealist movement (something that Magritte never forgave him for), to join La Jeune Peinture Belge non-profit association and subsequently become a member of the COBRA group.
In 1950, his fascination shifted to Calder’s mobiles, prompting him to work in three dimensions. In 1953, he exhibited his Plans Mobiles at the Apollo gallery in Brussels. These paintings consisting of three or four panels attached to an axis could be moved by the viewer, who thus created his or her own version of the work. Having discovered Bury’s work there, the Parisian gallery owner Denise René invited him to take part in the Mouvement exhibition set in her gallery in 1955, also featuring Calder, Vasarely and Soto.
His famous Ponctuations, Vibrations and Erectiles, which are metal or nylon wires moving on a panel, appeared in 1960. Having moved to Paris in 1962, the following year he began reworking photos or reproductions of monuments or industrial buildings with circular punches, giving them a centrifugal motion that deprived them of any solemnity: he practiced these Cinétisations until the end of his life. Twenty-five of these pieces are exhibited here.
Bury took part in the 1964 Venice Biennale. His first sculptures based on electromagnetism appeared in 1967. “It seems unnecessary to disclose the technical data of the mechanism that generates the movement,” he would comment. “Some people are too inclined nowadays, in this form of art, to don the engineer’s compass and the slide rule. For me, movement is a means, as was colour or stroke for painters. The painter is not required to produce a chemical analysis of the means he employs.”
In 1973, Bury designed three-metre high sculptures for an outdoor display; each consisted of a Corte steel cylinder divided into two parts: the lower, vertical and stationary, and the other actuated by a movement taking it away from the lower part or approaching it to form what looked like a single column at some point. Submitted to Renault’s Machine-tool division (Division Machines-Outils), the 25 tons of colonnes project soon proved quite a complex challenge considering the need to meet the artist’s requirements and the applicable safety regulations. It took several months of designs and improvements to produce a prototype: it included powerful invisible hinges, a quiet electric motor and batteries hidden inside the cylinder, and was finished to the artist’s requirements. This prototype served as a model for the fifty identical columns that Pol Bury was commissioned to manufacture by the Maeght Foundation. In an oblique way, 25 tons of columns is a tribute to the columns of ancient temples; Bury’s columns, however, are mobile and therefore threatening. Are they going to fall? “When God discovered gravity, He felt infinitely ridiculous,” the artist wrote with great wit. For this masterful work but also later with his hydraulic fountains, Bury defied and thwarted gravity, causing dizziness in the eye of the beholder. He debunked the state of peacefulness by showing that the world is neither stable nor lasting, that everything moves, quivers, advances, extends or retracts. Nature, the environment, but also society, relations between humans, each and every one’s thoughts. He used durable, solid materials such as wood and metal to illustrate this organicity.
“Look closely at how it moves, how it bends; listen to the way it squeaks,it growls, it whines; pay attention to hear how it stirs, not much, just a little, how it barely moves and stops, and moves again,” commented Eugène Ionesco beautifully in a catalogue of Bury’s works.
From 1976 onwards, Pol Bury began making water fountains, whose movement was generated by water gradually filling up a volume, causing it to overturn. Those fountains were installed in New York, Japan and Paris.
Highlights of the exhibitions include Meubles, works made from timber blocks from which mobile terminals are emerging, and 17 cordes verticales et leur cylindre, a kind of lone harp. There is also the very sensual Entité Erectile, metal wires shaped like closed eyes whose lashes would remain mobile. And last but not least, the strikingly simple 19 boules dans un volume ouvert, with it formal beauty and warm wood hues.
Patrick Derom Gallery
1 rue aux Laines
Until 20 December 2014
From Tuesday to Saturday, from 10:30 – 18:30h
The exhibition ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow, 1950s-60s set at the Guggenheim Museum of New York is the first major museum retrospective in the United States dedicated to the ZERO Group, an international network of like-minded artists which was active in Europe during the 1950s and 1960s. ZERO was founded in 1957 by German artists Otto Piene and Heinz Mack. Günter Uecker joined the group in 1961. In Belgium, the main figureheads of ZERO were Pol Bury, Jef Verheyen, Walter Leblanc, Paul Van Hoeydonck, and Paul De Vree.
Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum
Until 7 January 2015