On Manhattan’s Upper East Side, Belgian artist Guillaume Bijl has created a fortune teller’s den, decked out with glowing neon signs and embroidered floor pillows scattered across a plush red carpet. The installation currently on view at Meredith Rosen Gallery is Bijl at his best: a spirited and humorous aesthetic that hints at deeper, and sometimes darker, undercurrents.
Bijl, who is now 75, first rose to attention in the 1960s as a self-taught artist painting in a style that mimicked everything from Impressionism to Surrealism. By the late 1970s, he’d begun to incorporate found objects and actual home decor into his increasingly elaborate vignettes. These opulently detailed installations have come to embody a kind of comic archaeology of contemporary society and consumer culture.
On the occasion of his recent exhibition, we caught up with the artist, who told us about his peripatetic studio practice and why he despises “arty” art.
What are the most indispensable items in your studio and why?
I’m not so much a “studio artist”. I’m more of an “in situ” artist, especially with my big-scale installations. Although, for the last few years, I have had a studio in my home to make some smaller works, most of the house is storage space. Over the past 30 years, I’ve executed realistic figures in wax, polyester, bronze or aluminum in my assistant’s studio or at bronze foundries.
The most indispensable things in my studio are my handy assistant, because I’m technically clumsy—I have never drilled something in my life, for example—and a computer.
Is there a picture you can send of your work in progress?
What is the task on your agenda tomorrow that you are most looking forward to?
One of my painted bronze sculptures is being installed in a park in Haarlem in the Netherlands.
What kind of atmosphere do you prefer when you work? Do you listen to music or podcasts, or do you prefer silence? Why?
I have no sound system in my studio, but I sometimes listen to background music from my living room, mostly R&B.
What trait do you most admire in a work of art? What trait do you most despise?
I like art with content and with some kind of humor, with its own individual form, style and expressivity. I do not like “arty” art—dramatic, cheap, sensational art, or academism of any sort.
What snack food could your studio not function without?
Cigarettes… I don’t eat while I’m working. I drink coffee and iced green tea, and smoke Camel Blues.
Who are your favorite artists, curators, or other thinkers to follow on social media right now?
Cindy Sherman, Kerry James Marshall, Ben Vautier, Otobong Nkanga, Jerry Saltz, among many others.
When you feel stuck in the studio, what do you do to get un-stuck?
I seldom get stuck. I work on a piece of art until I show it in public—some works change months later. Deadlines help make my work and decisions more precise.
What is the last exhibition you saw (virtual or otherwise) that made an impression on you?
The last amazing show I saw was “Silent Vision” at the Beyeler Fondation in Basel this summer, which included works by Monet, Giacometti, Matisse, Rothko, Marlene Dumas. Each artist was exhibited in a separate space.
If you had to put together a mood board, what would be on it right now?
Everyday is a different mood board. Sometimes I can put everything into perspective, listen to a good concert, watch a splendid film. Other times, when I’m reflecting on this crazy society, I’m in a doubtful mood, dreading further digitalization and artificial intelligence. There’s the tension of some people still living in the Middle Ages, while others are in a neoliberal, science fiction dream that’s exploiting the developing world and nature.
“Guillaume Bijl: Installation (Fortune Teller)” is on view at Meredith Rosen Gallery through November 13, 2021.