Vincent Meessen / Thela Tendu: Patterns for (Re)cognition

Kunsthalle Basel, Basel, Switzerland
13 Feb 2015 - 25 May 2015

Vincent Meessen / Thela Tendu: Patterns for (Re)cognition

Installation view, Vincent Meessen & Thela Tendu, Patterns for (Re)cognition, KIOSK Ghent, 2013. Photo Tom Callemin

Patterns for (Re)cognition is both an exhibition of abstract works made in the 1930s by the Congolese artist Thela Tendu, curated by the Belgian artist Vincent Meessen, and simultaneously also a solo show of and about the work of Meessen, in which Tendu’s work figures prominently as a kind of catalyst and featured guest.

By assembling different art forms that Modernist notions of autonomy kept apart—painting, textile design, architectural ornament—Meessen has conceived an exhibition about abstraction as seen across various media. Patterns for (Re)cognition is inevitably also an exhibition about the blind spots in history, specifically one in which Tendu’s pioneering work could now be largely unrecognized and unknown, despite its having caused a sensation in the early 1930s in Brussels, Paris, Rome, and Geneva (many works in Patterns for (Re)cognition have not been exhibited since then). Finally, the exhibition is as well about the signature and the author, not only between artist and artist-curator, Tendu and Meessen; but also between Tendu and the various names he adopted for his work—Tshyela Ntendu, Tshelatende, theladeo, among others— in an act that Messeen justly recognizes as a conceptual statement.

The exhibition explores concerns that sit at the core of Meessen’s practice: questions of abstraction (visual, historical, psychological) and the impact of a colonial past on both modern history and art making. The project is the result of the elaborate research for which Meessen is known. Research is the foundation for his work, which includes discursive and curatorial endeavors alongside the production of objects. Meessen’s elaborate scenography for the show, which includes specially conceived modular structures (elaborated with the architect Kris Kimpe), a selection of found 16- millimeter films, a sound piece, documents, and other collected objects, is a kind of refractive lens. More than a display device, it is, in Meessen’s words, a “constructivist scenario” producing the conditions for legibility.

Vincent Meessen was born 1971 in Baltimore (USA); he lives and works in Brussels. Solo exhibitions of his work have been held at MUAC, Mexico City; Netwerk, Aalst (BE); Kiasma Museum, Helsinki; Espace Khiasma, Les Lilas, Paris; and the Stedelijk Museum Bureau, Amsterdam. He has recently participated in group exhibitions at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, San Francisco (USA); the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (USA); WIELS Contemporary Art Center, Brussels;and Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin. A first version of Patterns for (Re)cognition was held at KIOSK, Ghent (BE) in 2013. His project Personne et les autres will represent Belgium in the 2015 Venice Biennale (IT).

Thela Tendu, aka Djilatendo, aka . . ., was born circa 1890 and died circa 1960 in Luluabourg, Belgian Congo. Considered one of the two precursors of modern art in the Congo, Tendu’s work is multifaceted: geometric abstraction, folktale illustrations, figurative paintings depicting his animal cosmogony, and, above all, the encounter with colonial modernity in different fields of day-to-day life. His geometric abstractions remain largely unknown. Several works have been featured in group exhibitions, notably at Galerie du Centaure, Brussels, 1932; L’Agneau moustique, Brussels, 1947; Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin, 1979; Center for African Art and New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York (USA), 1991; Royal Museum for Central Africa, Tervuren (BE), 1992; Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo, 1995: Botanique, Brussels, 2007; and Fondation Cartier, Paris, 2012.

In partnership with Royal Library of Belgium – Koninklijke bibliotheek van België – Bibliothèque royale de Belgique

Press preview: 12.2.2015, 11 am
Opening: 12.2.2015, 7 pm

Kunsthalle Basel
Steinenberg 7, CH-4051 Basel

Opening hours: Tue–Wed, Fri 11 am–6 pm; Thu 11 am–8.30 pm; Sat–Sun 11 am–5 pm




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