Born in 1963 in Sint-Truiden, Belgium
Lives and works in Paris, France

Johan CRETEN

education

2013
- Resident at Randall International Chair, School of Art and Design and the Division of Ceramic Art, Alfred University, NY State, USA

2008
- Resident at European Ceramic Center (ERWC), Den Bosch, Netherlands

2006/07
- Professor at Ecole des Beaux-Arts, Rouen, France

2005
- Invited Professor at Alfred University, New York, New York State, USA

2004/07
- Artist in residence at Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, Paris, France

2001/03
- Artist in residence at Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, USA

2001
- Invited Professor at CCA, Oakland, California, USA

2000
- Invited Professor at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona, USA

1998
- Artist in residence at Artesanarte foundation, Villa Garcia, Monterrey, Mexico

1996/97
- Rome Prize, resident at Villa Medicis, Rome, Italy

1995
- Artist in residence at Kohler foundation, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, USA

1994
- Artist in residence at EKWC, Den Bosch, Netherlands
- Artist in residence at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Clermont-Ferrand, France

1993
- Artist in residence at Villa Arson, Nice, France

1991
- Course at Rijksacadémie in Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Artist in residence at Villa Sainte-Claire, Sète, France

1988
- Sculpture class at Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris, France

1986
- Painting class at Academie des Beaux-Arts in Gand, Belgium

solo shows

2017
- 8 Gods, Galerie Almine Rech, Brussels, Belgium

2016
- Terre Fertile / Terre Fébrile, Chateau de Pommard, France
- La Traversée, Centre Régional d'Art Contemporain, Sète, France

2015
- The Nature of Clay, The Monaco Project for the Arts 2015 Pavillon Bosio - Ecole Supérieure d'Arts Plastiques, Monaco
- God is a Stranger, Galerie Perrotin, New York, USA
- In Situ 2015, Abbaye de Gellone, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert

2014
- The Storm, Musée Middelheim, Sculpture Park, Anvers, Belgium
- Gulden Snede, Galerie Transit, Mechelen, Belgique
- Fireworks, Perrotin Gallery, Hong Kong

2013
- The Vivisector, Galerie Perrotin, Paris, France
- JC, Almine Rech Gallery, Brussels, Belgium

2012
- Fire-Works, Dhondt-Dhaenens Museum, Deurle, Belgium

2011
- Johan Creten. Pliny's Sorrow, Almine Rech, Brussels, Belgium
- Les ruches de Saint Bernard, Abbaye du Thoronet, Thoronet, France

2010
- Dark Continent Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris

2009
- Why does Strange fruit always look so sweet? Galerie Saint Severin, Paris, France

2008
- Strange Fruit, Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Miami, USA
- Johan Creten : La Femmina, Musée archéolique Henri-Prades, Lattes, France
- De Gewonden, Keramiekmuseum Princessehof, Leeuwarden, Pays Bas
- Ex Natura, Musée de la Chasse, (in coproduction with the Manufacture National of Sèvres), Paris, France

2007
- Tour des Forces, Royal Museum of Mariemont, Morlanwelz, Belgium
- Beelden/Sculptures, Stedelijk Museum de Lakenhal, Leiden, The Netherlands

2006
- Narcissus Saved, Transit Galerie, Mechelen, Belgium

2004
- Miami Dreams, De Garage, Mechelen, Belgium

2003
- JC solo, Bass Museum of Art, Miami, USA
- Odore di Femmina, J.Johnson Gallery, Jacksonville, Florida, USA
- JC Sculptures, Elaine Baker, Boca raton, Florida, USA

2001
- 3 Torso’s, Robert Miller Gallery, New York, USA

2000
- JC Sculptures, Riva Yares Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ and Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA
- Casa del Obispado, Arte Actueal Mexicano, Monterrey, Mexico

1998
- L’homme parfait, MAMCO, Genève, Switzerland
- Odore di Femmina, Robert Miller gallery, New York, USA

1997
- La Misère Dorée, Musée des Arts décoratif, Paris, France

1996
- Wereldbeelden, W 139, Amsterdam, Holland

1995
- Amerika Amerika, Galerie Arndt&Partner, Berlin, Germany

1994
- La Mort d’Adonis, FRAC Auvergne, Château de Chareil-Cintrat, France
- Les Amants, Galerie Transit, Leuven, Belgique
- JC Solo, Galerie de la Villa, Villa Arson, Nice, France
- En Quarantaine, Brise-lames, Sète, France

1992
- Le Cheval de Troie, Galerie Transit, Leuven, Belgium

1990
- L’œil de l’antiquaire, Transit Galerie, Belgium

1988
- Kunstkamer, Galerie Meyer, Paris, France

group shows

2017
- De nature en sculpture, Villa Datris, L'Isle-Sur-La-Sorgue, France
- Point quartz - Flower of Kent, Villa Arson, Nice, France
- Jardins, Grand Palais, Paris, France
- Between Earth and Heaven II, PAK, Bruges, Belgium
- The Beauty and the Beast, Château d'Ursel, Hingene, Belgium


2016
-  Mir ist das Leben lieber. Sammlung Reydan Weiss, Museum fur Moderne Kunst, Weserburg, Germany
- CERAMIX. Art and ceramics from Rodin to Schütte, La Maison Rouge, Paris, France

2015
- Obsession, Maison particulière, Brussels, Belgium
- Mademoiselle Privé, by Chanel, Saatchi Gallery, London, United Kingdom
- CERAMIX. Art and ceramics from Rodin to Schütte,Bonnafantenmuseum, Maastricht, Netherlands ;
- Glasstress Gotika, 56th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia
Berengo Foundation, Venice, Italy
- Vormidable. Contemporary Flemish Sculpture, Museum Beelden aan Zee, Den Haag, Netherlands
- Paysage rêvés - fin de siècle, Musée de Cambrai, Cambrai, France  
- Amours. tours & détours, Galerie nationale de la tapisserie, Beauvais, France

2014
- De Zee (The Sea), Mu.Zee, Ostend, Belgium
- Beating around the Bush Episode # 2, Bonnafantenmuseum, Maastricht, Netherlands
- Cet obscur objet de désirs : Autour de l'Origine du monde, Musée Gustave Courbet, Ornans, France
- Le Baiser Musée Maillol, Paris

2013
-Happy Birthday, 25 ans de la Galerie Perrotin, Tripostal, Lille, France
- FIAC hors les murs, Almine Rech Gallery, Jardin des Plantes, Paris, France
- Remake, Musée royal de Mariemont, Morlanweiz, Belgium
- Révélations. Le salon des métiers d'art et de la création, Grand Palais, Paris, France
- Terra Arte - Projektes, Zigelei Hundisburg, Hundisburg, Germany
- Sculptures 9 - Animal, Musée Despiau-Wlérick, Mont de Marsan, France
- The 7th Gyeonggi International Ceramic Biennale, Icheon CeraMIX Creative Center - Gyeonggi, Corée du Sud
- Mon île de Montmajour, Abbaye de Montmajour, Arles, France
- Back to Earth - From Picasso to Ai Weiwei. Rediscovering ceramics in Art, Herbert Gerisch Foundation, Neumünster, Germany
- La Révolte et l'Ennui, la collection du FRAC Auvergne FRAC Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand, France
-Château hanté, FRAC Auvergne, Domaine Royal de Randan, Randan, France
-Tresses 13. dés-tresse et déclacet treize, Maison des tresses et lacets, La Terrasse-sur-Dorlay, France

2012
- Des Fleurs en Hiver, Musée Delacroix, Paris, France
- La Belle & la Bête, Institut Culturel Bernard Magrez, Bordeaux, France
- Group Show, Galerie Perrotin, Paris
- Group Show, Galerie Transit, Mechelen, Belgium
- Beauté animale, de Dürer à Jeff Koons, Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais, Paris, France
- Festival International d'Art Contemporain Ap'Art, Les Alpilles, France
- Musée Imaginaire du Moyen Age, Château de Tarascon, France

2011-2012
- Bêtes off, Conciergerie, Paris, France
- Tour de France/Florida - Artist from France in FLorida's private collections, Institut Français and the French Consulate, The Frost Museum, Miami, USA

2011
- Pearls of North , On a pas perdu le nord, Palais d'Iéna, Paris, France
- Louvre à Bethune, Béthune 2011 - Capitale régionale de la culture, Béthune, France.
- Intérieurs, L'art de vivre avec l'art, Artcurial, Hôtel Dassault, Paris, France
- Scène Belge, Hippocrene Foundation, Paris, France
- Bestes, bestiaux et bestioles (Genèse), Château de Oiron, France
- Big Brother, l'artiste face aux tyrans, Palais des Arts et du festival de Dinard, France

2010
- Beyond Limits, a selling exhibition of modern and contemporary sculpture, Sotheby's, Chatsworth Castle, Derbyshire, UK
- Circuit Céramique : la scène française contemporaine, Musée des Arts décoratifs, Paris, France
- Liefde voor het boek, Hasselt, Belgium
- Between the Sacred and the Profane, CIAP, Hasselt, Belgium
- Sèvres, Porcelaines Contemporaines, Musée de l'Ermitage, Palais Menchikov, Saint Petersbourg, Russie
- Château de Rambouillet, France
- Who is afraid of the Museum? Museum Hof van Busleyden Mechelen, Belgium
- Olbricht Collection, Essen & Berlin, Germany
- New Monuments Middelheimmuseum, Anvers, Belgium
- Coup de ville en chambre d'amis Tentoonstellingsproject , Sint-Niklaas, Belgium
- Weizijwijzei, Landart, Flandres, Belgium
- Manifestation d’art contemporain, Centre culturel français, Yaoundé, Cameroun
- Métissages à Rochefort : Rencontre entre un artiste et une technique textile, Rochefort

2009
- New Love Princessehof Museum of Ceramics, Leeuwarden, Netherlands
- Feux continus Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, Grand Hornu, Belgique
- La Conquista della Modernità, 1920-2008, Musei Capitolini, Rome, Italy
- Flower Power, Villa Giulia, Verbania, Italy
- Silencio, Johan Creten - Paolo Grassino - Sarkis, Eglise Saint Jean, Le Monastier organized by Fonds Régional D'Art Contemporain Auvergne

2008
- Grandeur, Curator Anna Tilroe, Sonsbeek, Pays Bas
- Sand: Memory, Meaning and Metaphor, The Parrish Art Museum, Southampton, NY, USA
- La dégelée Rabelais, la Dive Bouteille, Trich, Château de Jau, Fonds régional d'art contemporain, Languedoc-Rousillon, France

2007
- Intrusions, Petit Palais, Paris
- Dialogues Mediterraneens, Saint-Tropez, France

2006
- From Arp to Bourgeois, Wallace Collection, London, England
- Céramique Fiction, Musée des Beaux Arts, Rouen, France

2005
- Contrepoint 2, Musée du Louvre, Paris, France

2004
- Because the earth is 1/3 dirt, C.U. Art Museum, Bolder, Colorado, USA
- Métissages, MACO, Oaxaca, Mexico

2003
- Fragile, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Reims, France

2002
- The Erotic Life of Clay: Sex Pots, Fine Arts Gallery, San Francisco state University, San Francisco, USA
- Beyond the Male Pale, J.M. Kohler Arts Center, Wisconsin, USA

2001
- Water on paper, CIAP, Hasselt, Belgium

2000
- Confrontational Clay, the artist as Social Critic, traveling show, USA
- Gardens of Pleasure, John Michael Kolher Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, USA

1999
- Garten der Flora, Museum Kloster Unser Lieben Frauen, Magdeburg, Germany

1997
- 5th International Istanbul Biennal, Yerebatan Cistern, Istanbul, Turkey
- Sables brulants, Museum Beelden aan Zee, Scheveningen, Pays-Bas
- Retour d’Italie, Musée des Arts Décoratifs, Palais du Louvre, Paris, France
- L’exposition informelle, Frac Auvergne, Clermont-Ferrand, France

1996
- Masculine Measures, John Michael Kolher Arts Center, Sheboygan, Wisconsin, USA

1995
- Fémininmasculin, Centre national d’art et de culture Georges Pompidou, Paris, France

1991
- Incrustaties, Picaron Editions, Amsterdam, Pays-Bas

public collection

- Bonnafantenmuseum, Maastricht, Netherlands
- Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach, Florida, USA
- Kohler Foundation, Wisconsin, USA
- FRAC Languedoc-Roussillon, France
- FRAC Pays de la Loire, France
- FRAC Auverge, France
- Fonds Municipal d’Art Contemporain, Paris, France
- Provincial Museum voor Moderne kunst, Oostende, Belgium
- Collection du Ministère de la communauté Flamande de Belgique
- Collection de la province du Brabant Flamand de Belgique
- Museum Kloster Unser Lieben Frauen, Magdeburg, Germany
- Olbricht Collection, Berlin, Germany

Johan Creten - La traversée / The crossing

Johan Creten - La traversée / The crossing

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Johan Creten

Johan Creten

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JOHAN CRETEN - "ALFRED PAINTINGS"

JOHAN CRETEN - "ALFRED PAINTINGS"

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Johan Creten - "Strange Fruit"

Johan Creten - "Strange Fruit"

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Johan Creten

Johan Creten

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Johan CRETEN - "De Storm"

Johan CRETEN - "De Storm"

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  • May 2017
    FORBES — 3 PAGES

  • March 2017
    Prestige — 3 PAGES

  • March 2017
    Prestige — 4 PAGES

  • October 2016
    Midi Libre — 1 PAGE

  • October 2016
    Officiel Art — 1 PAGE


"Creten’s work speaks to the storm within us all, as individuals and as a society, and deals with his usual themes: nature, the female form, power, politics and spirituality." 
Gay Gassmann, T Magazine - New York Times.

« His sculptures inhabit a space between worlds, an intercept of surreal and expressionist, erotic dream and brutal physicality. »
Claudia Barbieri, The New York Times


Johan Creten (Born 1963, Belgium) is a Flemish sculptor based in Paris.
He has been trained as a painter but soon turned to ceramics and monumental bronze for his work. Called « The Clay Gipsy » and working wherever he has the opportunity, from Miami to Mexico, from Den Haag to New York, Johan Creten is considered a frontrunner in the revival of clay with Lucio Fontana and Thomas Schütte.

He has exhibited, among many other places, at the Louvre Museum, at the Musée Nationale Eugène Delacroix in Paris, the Bass Museum of Art in Miami Beach, the Istanbul Biennale, the Mamco in Geneva and the Middelheimmuseum in Antwerp. 

In 1996 he was awarded the Prix de Rome and could stay as resident in the Villa Medici. Between 2004 and 2007 he was visiting artist at the Manufacture nationale de Sèvres. 
In 2009 he was nominated for the Flemish Culture Prize. 
In 2013, he held the Theodore Randall Chair at the Alfred University, New York State. 
In 2014, he presented a majoro solo exhibition of monumental bronzes in the culpture park of the Middelheimmuseum in Antwerp.
In 2015, an entire room was dedicated to his pioneering work in the exhibition "CERAMIX" at the Bonnefantenmuseum in Maastricht and La Maison Rouge in Pari, in 2016.

A major solo exhibition at the Centre Régional d'Art Contemporain in Sète, South of France, will gather no less than 60 emblematic and never-before-seen ceramic sculptures and monumental bronzes.
"La Traversée" - Opening October 21, 2016 
http://crac.languedocroussillon.fr/exposition_fiche/206/3170-expositions-art-contemporain-futures-crac-sete.htm


Press release Johan Creten, Miami 2008
from Ludovic RECCHIA
Born in Sint Truiden, Johan Creten, studied in Gand, Paris and Amsterdam. Adding to his statelessness, he spent two years at the Villa Medici in Rome in 1996, then three years in 2000 as an artist in residence at the Bass Museum of Art (Miami Beach). From June 2004 to January 2008, he was an artist in residence at the legendary Manufacture Nationale de Sèvres, the French national porcelain factory.
There, he went on to develop a series of sandstone and porcelain sculptures entitled "Vagues ("waves") or Odore di Femmina". Reviving forgotten techniques, such as the use of wood kilns, Creten thrived and his concepts blossomed into unexpected shapes.

There are very few sculptors who have grasped, with so much relevance, the plasticity of Ceramics. An essential paradox, formal and narrative all at once, permeates Creten's work: a very powerful baroque treatment applied to classical shapes. In his early work, crude, popular imagery coexisted with an astonishingly beautiful and refined sensuality. In art as in man, Eros and Thanatos mingle in complex ways.

Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers' paintings of mussel shells led Johan Creten towards his "Odore di Femmina" series. Not only are "mould" and "mussel" homophonous in French, but "moule" also means "cunt", and when Broodthaers referenced Belgium's favorite shellfish, he also evoked the female sex organ, the origin of the world.
The "Odore di Femmina" are either reliefs, either classical female busts with a pastillage of rose petals, fruits or seaweed instead of mussels. All kinds of metonymies come subtly into play, so as to evoke the woman through her perfume, the perfume through the flower and, lastly, the sex through the thousands of vulvar excrescences enshrouding her body. These female sandstone busts are reminiscent of antique Venus Anadyomene ("Venus rising from the sea"), with measurements corresponding to Hellenistic models.

These "Odore di Femmina" take us back to the bacchantes, and to Ophelia as portrayed by 19th century symbolist painting. Marine life, the sea as mother, are central to Creten's "Vagues" series, with their impressive, truly monumental tentacle-like convolutions reminiscent of sea monsters and leviathans. "La Très grande vague ou Une sirène pour Palissy" (fittingly acquired by the Museum of Modern Art in Ostend) or "The Pearl" (with the subhead "The Lovers - The Octopi") are free of all ambiguities. Out of their impossible movements emerges a monstrous and gorgeous kind of love, rendered as a mix of attraction and repulsion.

Creten makes up new mythologies out of scraps of stories, bits of History and art history, and personal experiences and travels, freely blending the personal and the intimate with the universal.

Ludovic RECCHIA
Research Assistant with the Musée royal de Mariemont (Belgium)


Johan Creten "Strange Fruit" by Alfredo Triff, 2008

“An inconsolable memory, a memory of shadows and stone.”—Marguerite Duras

In one of his essays pondering Nietzsche’s idea of history, critic Gene Ray asks: “What face to show this wounded world of lost selves?” One possible answer to this question is to aesthetically wriggle away from chaos to form, which Belgian artist Johan Creten successfully pulls off with Strange Fruit, his recent show of sculptures at Perrotin Gallery in Wynwood.

Creten’s diverse and colorful ceramics mix the aesthetic of end-of-Nineteenth-Century group Les XX (only more abstract, devoid of superfluous metaphysics), with Arthur C. Clark’s science fiction and a postmodern cynical humor out of H. R. Geiger. To top it off, there’s movement, drama and passion.
The pieces’ texture vary from shiny to vascular, to bristly, to tentacular; their form from human to animal to basaltic. There is something ancient and geological a beyond-history quality of lithification, whereby sediments compact under pressure, expelling liquid, gradually become solid rock (which is why Creten’s work has been displayed as counterpoint to archeological findings in museums, such as the Paris’s Louvre).
The Belgian artist exploits certain themes which have made a comeback into post-postmodern sensibility, such as the idea of late-Nineteenth Century animism, which is present in the sculptor’s more abstract pieces, like the reddish and flowery “Mr. Rabbit” (or “Little Head”), resembling ciliated fossils or calcareous algae imbued with life.
There is the octopus, which survives in Cretan and Greek poetry and iconography into the Classical period -and makes a brief appearance in the Art Nouveau jewelry. The decadent sensibility was fascinated with the cephalopod’s intelligence, its suicidal mating behavior and the bizarre constitution of its body.
Creten’s Les Poulpes (2005) communicates a malevolently sensual movement: Two octopuses mate, their big bulbous gelatinous heads one on top of the other, as they form a white inchoate mass of tentacles, peppered with blood spots as if coming out of the stone’s crevices (the “sang de boeuf” used in the glazing process).
A Gothic and then Romantic theme transformed by fin-de-siècle Symbolist literature is that of the implicit human-like quality of the monster. Creten’s Un Grand nez triste, a twisted sculpture of a male figure with a thick protruding nose, his drooping eyes exuding grief, is akin to Verlaine’s Beaux demons, or the kind of corporeal deformity defended by Oscar Wilde in his Picture of Dorian Gray: “There’s animalism in the soul, and the body had its moments of spirituality. The senses could refine, and the intellect could degrade.”
Creten implodes figuration and abstraction: “La Disgraziata” (1998), an imposing 6.3 feet statue of a headless female trunk, shrouded by a pink colored fibrous lattice (as if a swelling vascular epidermis) and Miami Grace (2001), covered with a reddish coral dress, stand both detached, as petrified testimonies of a nuclear conflagration. They are not depictions of women per se, but conceptual revisions of the classical canon -as if layers of history over history.
The show’s interrogatory posture reminds me of the image of the charred wristwatch in Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour. It is as if, coming back to Ray’s essay, one would witness “the end of history as human memory and human time dispersing into geological memory.” I welcome that all of this is presented not as the final synthesis of a great unfolding, but more like a tectonic unassuming process. In the end, Creten is not making a comment about history or antihistory, but more like the poetic flight of an invisible bird we no longer need to watch.

Alfredo Triff



Johan Creten "Strange Fruit" by Alfredo Triff, 2008


“An inconsolable memory, a memory of shadows and stone.”—Marguerite Duras

In one of his essays pondering Nietzsche’s idea of history, critic Gene Ray asks: “What face to show this wounded world of lost selves?” One possible answer to this question is to aesthetically wriggle away from chaos to form, which Belgian artist Johan Creten successfully pulls off with Strange Fruit, his recent show of sculptures at Perrotin Gallery in Wynwood.

Creten’s diverse and colorful ceramics mix the aesthetic of end-of-Nineteenth-Century group Les XX (only more abstract, devoid of superfluous metaphysics), with Arthur C. Clark’s science fiction and a postmodern cynical humor out of H. R. Geiger. To top it off, there’s movement, drama and passion.
The pieces’ texture vary from shiny to vascular, to bristly, to tentacular; their form from human to animal to basaltic. There is something ancient and geological a beyond-history quality of lithification, whereby sediments compact under pressure, expelling liquid, gradually become solid rock (which is why Creten’s work has been displayed as counterpoint to archeological findings in museums, such as the Paris’s Louvre).
The Belgian artist exploits certain themes which have made a comeback into post-postmodern sensibility, such as the idea of late-Nineteenth Century animism, which is present in the sculptor’s more abstract pieces, like the reddish and flowery “Mr. Rabbit” (or “Little Head”), resembling ciliated fossils or calcareous algae imbued with life.
There is the octopus, which survives in Cretan and Greek poetry and iconography into the Classical period -and makes a brief appearance in the Art Nouveau jewelry. The decadent sensibility was fascinated with the cephalopod’s intelligence, its suicidal mating behavior and the bizarre constitution of its body.
Creten’s Les Poulpes (2005) communicates a malevolently sensual movement: Two octopuses mate, their big bulbous gelatinous heads one on top of the other, as they form a white inchoate mass of tentacles, peppered with blood spots as if coming out of the stone’s crevices (the “sang de boeuf” used in the glazing process).
A Gothic and then Romantic theme transformed by fin-de-siècle Symbolist literature is that of the implicit human-like quality of the monster. Creten’s Un Grand nez triste, a twisted sculpture of a male figure with a thick protruding nose, his drooping eyes exuding grief, is akin to Verlaine’s Beaux demons, or the kind of corporeal deformity defended by Oscar Wilde in his Picture of Dorian Gray: “There’s animalism in the soul, and the body had its moments of spirituality. The senses could refine, and the intellect could degrade.”
Creten implodes figuration and abstraction: “La Disgraziata” (1998), an imposing 6.3 feet statue of a headless female trunk, shrouded by a pink colored fibrous lattice (as if a swelling vascular epidermis) and Miami Grace (2001), covered with a reddish coral dress, stand both detached, as petrified testimonies of a nuclear conflagration. They are not depictions of women per se, but conceptual revisions of the classical canon -as if layers of history over history.
The show’s interrogatory posture reminds me of the image of the charred wristwatch in Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour. It is as if, coming back to Ray’s essay, one would witness “the end of history as human memory and human time dispersing into geological memory.” I welcome that all of this is presented not as the final synthesis of a great unfolding, but more like a tectonic unassuming process. In the end, Creten is not making a comment about history or antihistory, but more like the poetic flight of an invisible bird we no longer need to watch.

Alfredo Triff


Johan Creten "Strange Fruit" by Alfredo Triff, 2008


“An inconsolable memory, a memory of shadows and stone.”—Marguerite Duras

In one of his essays pondering Nietzsche’s idea of history, critic Gene Ray asks: “What face to show this wounded world of lost selves?” One possible answer to this question is to aesthetically wriggle away from chaos to form, which Belgian artist Johan Creten successfully pulls off with Strange Fruit, his recent show of sculptures at Perrotin Gallery in Wynwood.

Creten’s diverse and colorful ceramics mix the aesthetic of end-of-Nineteenth-Century group Les XX (only more abstract, devoid of superfluous metaphysics), with Arthur C. Clark’s science fiction and a postmodern cynical humor out of H. R. Geiger. To top it off, there’s movement, drama and passion.
The pieces’ texture vary from shiny to vascular, to bristly, to tentacular; their form from human to animal to basaltic. There is something ancient and geological a beyond-history quality of lithification, whereby sediments compact under pressure, expelling liquid, gradually become solid rock (which is why Creten’s work has been displayed as counterpoint to archeological findings in museums, such as the Paris’s Louvre).
The Belgian artist exploits certain themes which have made a comeback into post-postmodern sensibility, such as the idea of late-Nineteenth Century animism, which is present in the sculptor’s more abstract pieces, like the reddish and flowery “Mr. Rabbit” (or “Little Head”), resembling ciliated fossils or calcareous algae imbued with life.
There is the octopus, which survives in Cretan and Greek poetry and iconography into the Classical period -and makes a brief appearance in the Art Nouveau jewelry. The decadent sensibility was fascinated with the cephalopod’s intelligence, its suicidal mating behavior and the bizarre constitution of its body.
Creten’s Les Poulpes (2005) communicates a malevolently sensual movement: Two octopuses mate, their big bulbous gelatinous heads one on top of the other, as they form a white inchoate mass of tentacles, peppered with blood spots as if coming out of the stone’s crevices (the “sang de boeuf” used in the glazing process).
A Gothic and then Romantic theme transformed by fin-de-siècle Symbolist literature is that of the implicit human-like quality of the monster. Creten’s Un Grand nez triste, a twisted sculpture of a male figure with a thick protruding nose, his drooping eyes exuding grief, is akin to Verlaine’s Beaux demons, or the kind of corporeal deformity defended by Oscar Wilde in his Picture of Dorian Gray: “There’s animalism in the soul, and the body had its moments of spirituality. The senses could refine, and the intellect could degrade.”
Creten implodes figuration and abstraction: “La Disgraziata” (1998), an imposing 6.3 feet statue of a headless female trunk, shrouded by a pink colored fibrous lattice (as if a swelling vascular epidermis) and Miami Grace (2001), covered with a reddish coral dress, stand both detached, as petrified testimonies of a nuclear conflagration. They are not depictions of women per se, but conceptual revisions of the classical canon -as if layers of history over history.
The show’s interrogatory posture reminds me of the image of the charred wristwatch in Alain Resnais’ Hiroshima mon amour. It is as if, coming back to Ray’s essay, one would witness “the end of history as human memory and human time dispersing into geological memory.” I welcome that all of this is presented not as the final synthesis of a great unfolding, but more like a tectonic unassuming process. In the end, Creten is not making a comment about history or antihistory, but more like the poetic flight of an invisible bird we no longer need to watch.

Alfredo Triff