One of the museums in Belgium that never fails to produce very interesting exhibitions is the dr. Guislainmuseum (in Ghent). The building was originally a psychiatric hospital. Nowadays it serves another function, that of a museum.
Dr. Guislain museum always succeeds in creating the right environment. I went to an exhibition called Dark Chambers. The room worked perfectly with the theme, there was a gloomy and dark atmosphere. The walls had a dark colour and the only light parts were the artworks. The main themes of the exhibition were melancholy and depressions.
As an art science and archaeology student it’s always fun to see your knowledge come in handy at an exhibition. Such as the theory of the four temperaments of the Ancient Greeks. Melancholy was one of the four. The temperaments were linked with the four humours (bodily fluids) and four elements. Whenever someone had an abundant of black bile, they suffered from melancholy.
Throughout the years the definition of melancholy changed. The Middle Ages can be seen as a relative dark time for the melancholic man, they were considered to be lunatics. This changed in the Renaissance, the melancholic man gained respect and were the artists and intellectuals.
I made a short selection of the presented works that stuck with me the most.
One of the first works you come in contact with is the work of Albrecht Dürer, Melancholia I. The woman is the personification of the melancholy itself. Surrounding the woman are various attributes, such as the dog and references to geometry and architecture. This work represents the renaissance melancholic person.
Saturn is the planet of the melancholy. In the Greek mythology Saturn is the god who devours his own children to stay immortal. Jupiter is one of those children, but he managed to escape. As soon as he was ready to confront his father, he went back and killed him. Albrecht Dürer shows the perfect square, this would alleviate the melancholy and is a reference to Jupiter who goes against his father Saturn.
Erwin Olaf, a dutch photographer, made a serie called Grief. He portrays people in mourning, It all takes place with a sixties vibe. The inspiration for this picture specifically is the incident of J.F. Kennedy and his wife Jackie. Olaf shows her in complete isolation, with a controlled form of sadness, her head slightly pendulous. This is one of the works that stayed with me the most, the emotion that Erwin Olaf creates is very captivating.
On either side of a doorway, you’ll find two sculptures. These are the Two Watchmen by Juan Muñoz. These sculptures are trying to complete their function as a watchman, but with their massive lowerbody they aren’t capable of doing so. That’s why they are placed on a pedestal, this way they can still see everything. There is a kind of balance between the motionless (their lower bodies) and an attempt to still move (their upperbodies).
In another room there are three works of Jan Cox. One of these is a Selfportrait. It’s clear to see that the artist lived with melancholy. He presents himself in a closed posture, with his hands together, in front of his face. There’s a sort of sadness.
The exhibition ends with a work by Jonas Burgert, a German artist. He produced a monumental piece with the theme of melancholy and the unknown. His work takes up an entire wall. In the middle of the painting there is a black hole. It’s surrounded with all kinds of people, those who are falling apart, those with missing pieces, .. Burgert plays with different proportions and shapes. (You can find more on his website)
This was originally published on Our Pursuit of Art.