Philippe van Cauteren

Letter to Matthias Beckmann


In the art of the second half of the twentieth century, the museum itself has repeatedly been the object of penetrating anlysis and artistic projects that subjct the institution to critique. Just as the death of painting is proclaimed every fifteen years, the museum too is regularly subject to destruction and reanimation. Although of course your work is nothing to do with artistic practices of criticising the institution, I nevertheless suspect the incisive features of your drawings to be ironic comments on the museum apparatus. I am naturally aware that as an artist your work should not be reduced to the observations you make in museums. It is a much more complex and broader artistic process, where drawing is both the essence and the subject of its inquiry. Even so, the main question I wish to ask myself is, what is a drawing in relation to your 'museum portraits'.

In terms of form, your work can be defined perfectly as that of an artist who draws and who believes in the pure line. On the basis of their format, the drawings can be seen as emerging from the intimate radius of the strokes of your wrist. In some cases they are atmospheric miniatures that celebrate a moment or the instant. But this is only to mention those things that are 'measurable' on the surface of the sheet. If I am to put your work in some sort of framework I will have to look for it more in the photographic or filmic context. Close-ups, detail analysis und focal depth are just a few of the methods you use. To me your drawings are stills from a filmic (narrative) development in which a changing seriality is a recurring constant. Leafing through this book is like a travelling shot through the museum. Or else a zooming in and out on the reality of the S.M.A.K.

In the two weeks you were in the museum, you did more than 150 drawings in various places: exhibition rooms and stores, conservation workshops and suchlike. Or, to put it in another way, you 'photographed' the museum with your drawings.

You sketched a psychological framework or portrait on the basis of your experience as an artist-visitor. So perhaps your drawings can be defined as a documentary report that captures a moment in time. And yet this documentary report, in which as an artist you filter out details of this museum's reality, is one that moves back and forth between a desire for photographic objectivity and the individual possibilities and ambition of each drawing. If Walter Benjamin had seen your work, he would, on the basis of his analysis of the work of art, certainly have asked questions about the mutual relationship between the status of the work of art, the photo of it and your extremely meticulous drawings.

Ghent, January 2007