There was a big crowd when the second exhibition at the Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art (MIMA) opened its doors. On the canal, in the halls of this former brewery, we discover Boris Tellegen, who started as a graffiti artist under the pseudonym of DELTA in the 1980s to later capitalise on his talent and move to other creative media and visual arts. A multidiciplinary evolution in line with the founding objective of MIMA.
Following a collective exhibition from the basement to the top floor, this is a solo show for which the artist collaborated with his curator to develop a coherent scenography and ensure close connection with his works. With his nesting geometrical shapes, followed by his robots and today his trains, Tellegen is a child of urban art whose career straddles two centuries. Originating as a graffiti artist at the young age of 14 in Amsterdam, and under the watchful eye of his father, Tellegen was already creating album covers for electronic music labels such as Ninja Tune and Delsin in the 1990s. These covers gave the artist international visibility. From then on, he broadened his creative scope to encompass fashion, film making, architecture, graphic design and the visual arts. He took part in major exhibitions, including Fault Zone at the Palais de Tokyo in 2014 and The Bridges of Graffiti at the Venice Biennale in 2015.
From the printed T-shirt to the large installation, we get to see all the sizes and shapes of his art in this exhibition. Already in the lobby, we come across a mysterious box, a bit like a treasure chest in which we can enter and which summarises the artist’s sources of inspiration and archives. Higher, sculptures made from coloured timber or plaster panels playing with volumes and shadows are displayed on a wall hiding showcases displaying the album covers, T-shirts, etc. On the top level, we find a huge robot, recumbent on the floor. It is so large that its wooden legs are protruding outside the building through two windows. A model electric train runs on a loop track inside the bot’s body. “Looking at the work of Boris,” explains Raphaël Cruyt, one of the museum’s initiators, “we note that he never stopped playing.”
The resin or bronze robots which are reminiscent of works of modernist constructivist and futuristic artists of the early twentieth century are worth a mention. This parallel and formal link spark a couple of lines of thought. First of all, is it plausible that culture and the arts may seep in such a way and with such intensity into the collective imagination over several decades that even artists who don’t seem connected to art history in any way may be influenced by it? Or, can we see a similarity between two moments in history? At the beginning of the 20th century, the Western world, in the midst of an industrial revolution, experienced increasingly faster modes of transportation with, among others, the birth of aviation. The artists of that era were interested in translating this industrial movement and the speed felt then as something intense and almost frantic. At the dawn of the new millennium, Tellegen and his peers witnessed a new shift in the means of transport – low-cost flights allowing anyone to travel almost anywhere in the world – and the exponential growth in communication channels driven by the Internet. Is it possible that, once again, these major changes are translated by artists through the same forms and styles?
Boris Tellegen (1968) has gone from street art and group work to galleries and museums. However, he continues to paint, on trains, large white geometric shapes outlined in black which he calls Trains. As a matter of fact, a huge robot awaits travellers in one of the halls of the Gare du Midi. Standing tall and magnificent, this sentinel thumbs its nose at those who used to erase his graffiti on the trains and in the railway tunnels. Tellegen’s art runs carefree and with humour on all kinds of creative tracks and all kinds of media. That’s its appeal and probably what will attract visitors from all walks of life.
A friendly takeover
39-41 quai du Hainaut
Until 28 May
Wednesdays – Sundays, from 10:00h to 18:00h
Nocturne on Thursdays until 21:00h