#Hans Op de Beeck

Enigmatic Figures Are Frozen in Time in Hans Op de Beeck’s Lifelike, Monochromatic Sculptures

June 13, 2023

Kate Mothes

“Hélène” (2023), MDF, polyester, and coating, 90 x 142 x 110.5 centimeters. All images © Studio Hans Op de Beeck, shared with permission

Seated on the floor with an arm resting on her knee, an exhausted boxer recovers from physical exertion in Hans Op de Beeck’s newest life-size sculpture, “Hélène.” Coated in the artist’s signature shade of gray, the work captures the interplay of light and shadow to reveal subtle folds of fabric, padding, and the figures’s physical features. “Op de Beeck has always paid special attention to the moment when we let go of our social roles and daily worries and surrender to a moment when we are nobody and nowhere for a while,” a statement says, “when we slip into the unknown of the subconscious.”

A range of dualities are at the core of Op de Beeck’s practice, such as wakefulness and sleep, motion and stillness, or life and death. “Danse Macabre,” for example, juxtaposes the playful, nostalgic motif of a baroque carousel with skull ornamentation and a spectral skeleton in a long dress, symbolically examining the cycle of life and relationships between the present and the past, vitality and mortality, and joy and horror.

Op de Beeck’s monumental sculptures (previously) often focus on a central, heroic figure, like “The Boatman” or “The Horseman,” below, which depict lithe, enigmatic figures who appear about to embark on adventures. Undergirding these depictions is a sense that, while the characters appear to be on the move, they are simultaneously frozen in time.


Detail of “We were the last to stay.” Photo by Blaise Adilon, © Biennale de Lyon 2022

At the Biennale de Lyon in 2022, Op de Beeck’s immersive installation “We were the last to stay” invited viewers into an alternate reality containing the remnants of a mysterious, perhaps apocalyptic, event. Devoid of people, the scene is of a small community where residents may have sustained a simple way of life. Every surface is coated in gray, with chairs overturned and homes vacated. Visitors, inherently colorfully dressed and lively, activated the installation by highlighting stark contrasts between presence and absence.

Op de Beeck also references the tradition of vanitas, a genre of still-life painting popularized during the Dutch Golden Age that relied on symbolism to show the fleeting nature of life, the certainty of death, and the futility of pleasure, wealth, or glory. Nestled somewhere between reality, dreams, and imagined adventures, the artist leaves interpretations open: Has something happened to petrify the world? Will it always stay this way? As if turned to stone, “The Horseman” will eternally peer over his shoulder, just as “Hélène” will continue to rest.

See more of Op de Beeck’s work on his website and Instagram.


Detail of “Hélène”

“Gesture (laurel wreath)” (2022), polyester, polyamide, and coating, 55 x 54.5 x 20 centimeters

“Danse Macabre” (2021), installation of steel, aluminum, wood, polyester, polyamide, polyurethane, PVC coated nylon, plaster, and coating, 11 x 11 x 6.5 meters

“Gesture (bird)” (2022), polyester, polyamide, and coating, 37 x 45 x 20 centimeters

“Gesture (dandelion clock)” (2022), polyester, polyamide, silk, metal wire, and coating, 14 x 53 x 21 centimeters

“We were the last to stay” (2022), mixed media immersive installation, 790 × 240 × 136 centimeters. Photo by Blaise Adilon, © Biennale de Lyon 2022

Visitors to “We were the last to stay”

Detail of “We were the last to stay.” Photo by Blaise Adilon, © Biennale de Lyon 2022

“The Horseman” (2020), polyester, steel, polyamide, brass, coating, and bronze, 215 x 92 x 243 centimeters

Details of “The Horseman”

#Hans Op de Beeck


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