Art Handling in Oblivion


For Rob van Leijsen’s first show in Belgium, Rosa Brux is pleased to present an impossible exhibition catalogue featuring five collections of artworks that were stolen or vandalized during various wars. Whether it’s a German collection that was carried off by the Red Army at the end of WWII, or the pillaging of the Iraqi National Museum in 2003 as American troops closed in, this show offers a kind of inventory of the systematic extorsion of private or public collections by people at war. It is an act whose motivation is not only bound up with economic interests but also partakes symbolically of the annihilation of the culture and identity of the country on the losing side of a war.

Having managed to recreate these collections in their entirety for the most part, van Leijsen uses a painstaking investigation to trace the illegal history of cultural appropriations and heritage. It is an archive whose revelation is all the more sensitive in that some of the stolen collections are still in the possession of the country that originally pillaged them, witness the artworks plundered by the Red Army from German collectors that are hanging in the Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, or the war booty taken by Napoleon Bonaparte that is part of the Louvre in Paris.

If the history of art has long accustomed us to ridding ourselves of our expectations when it comes to exhibitions – the emblematic examples of the 1960s conceptual art scene immediately spring to mind – the art show as catalogue makes it possible to renew the genre in this instance. Taking van Leijsen’s attempt to put together a show that only exists as a publication literally, a “guided tour” hosted by the author is scheduled. There will be a Q&A following the tour with an open discussion and the participation of visitors to the show in an arrangement specially orchestrated for the occasion.

As part of this show, Louis Malle’s film The Thief of Paris will be screened at the end of the tour.