“Taboo – banned on grounds of morality or taste. Subject not acceptable to talk about or do” – (Merriam-Webster, online). When we learnt that Maison Particulière had decided to cover such a broad and sensitive topic as taboos, we were obviously hoping to be amazed. Big disappointment, however. What are the taboos of this day and age? Is sex still one of them? Is religion still taboo? Are they not rather the outrages committed against women in some parts of the world, or closer to home, like in Cologne, for example? Is it not the silenced freedom of expression under the pressure of increasingly present terror? Are these not the tendency to generalise and pass hasty judgements pompted by a climate of insularity? Granted, art should not have to wave the flag of political opinions. However, opting for such an exhibition title in the present time, in an era when most taboos have been vanquished, is a daring choice which, if unable to convey a message, should at least make people think.

Yet here, we feel like we are watching a parade of provocative objects obtained from private collections, without a common thread to link them. There are some beautiful works on display, which, irrespective of the theme, deserve to be shown. What prevents our gaze and mind from being truly blown away is the mishmash aspect of the exhibiton and the uneven quality of the art pieces. The innovative Belgian artist Wim Delvoye, is the guest artist of this project. What makes him taboo? His aim is to constantly challenge etiquette, to push back the boundaries between fantasy and reality. When Wim finances a pig farm, tattooing his livestock with love, and offering them to die of natural causes, and displays their bodies with the Louis Vuitton stamp, he tries to provoque and question the animal’s value, compared to humans. Because for Wim Delvoye, one is not more equal than the other. There is no order of values and this can make us think of how some religious groups treat women and children.

Another work shown and shown again – one of the things that we found slightly rehashed in this project: the taboo must be new – is the Piss Christ byAndres Serrano. Yes, the work featuring a Christ on the cross bathed in a golden light caused a scandal because of its stunning beauty, but it is only shocking once the viewer understands the title and nature of the liquid. This work is 30 years old, however! It is an old taboo! We were more interested in the atomic cloud created by Adrian Ghenie or the black and white painting of Thai Nguyen Tuan which shows a woman being arrested and the hand of the man resting on her breast: an assault which reeks of topicality.

We were happy to see Helmut Stallaerts exhibited here – especially after his stunning show at the ING Art Center – with a sexual work bearing the poetic title of Emptiness Replaces my Soul. Kendell Geers’s showcase with its arms swinging at the end of a chain, positioned across from the painting of Oda Jaune, has great aesthetic impact. There is also Stephan Balleux’s painting depicting row after row of little boys heads, shown from the back, their right hand raised and poised to write on a blackboard, all forced to be or become right-handed: a recently-acquired freedom which could disappear if the world is one day ruled by those who think that the left hand is the devil’s hand…

And then this used tampon by Tracey Emin, a piece created back in 1963 which continues to upset and even disgust viewers. We, however, love this work. It is feminist and to the point. It echoes the song Rendez-vous (a perfect title for an exhibition at Maison Particulière) by our Belgian icon Stromae which explains that a woman is also that. Yet, we failed to see the point in including Jean Rustin’s paintings. They portray old age in a voyeuristic fashion, in a series of ugly and sad images of what is probably a taboo for some, but that can be viewed in a less trivial way. It was great to see once again that sublime photograph of a couple of naked teenagers taken by Larry Clark, a mythical photographer who does not seem influenced by time. And I was moved by the destitute orphan boy painted by Nathan Chantob who makes my heart bleed while conjurring up images of children washed up on a Greek beach…

I will conclude by admitting that this exhibition is not all bad, since, viewed one by one, the works often have great stories to tell and raise major issues. So, what was there to do at the Maison Particulière on this occasion? We tried to “shop around” and extract from what was shown to us the substance to feed our need, if not for beauty, at least for meaning.

Maison Particulière
49 rue du Châtelain
1050 Brussels
Until 26 March
Tuesdays – Sundays, from 11:00 to 18:00


Adrian Ghenie - Nougat 2 (2010)

Stephan Balleux - A lesson, right hand

Ronald Ophuis - Latrine by night, Poland 1944 (2011)

Nathan Chantob - Les ordures c'est nous, 2014

Christine Spengler - Enfants nageant dans le Mékong, 1974

Andres Serrano - Piss christ (Immersions series), 1987

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