MARIANNE BERENHAUT – to the right & back


M HKA, Antwerp

11 September 2021 - 09 January 2022

Dividing her time between Brussels and London, Marianne Berenhaut (Brussels, b. 1934) makes poetic sculptures assembled with discarded or left-behind objects, creating associative compositions and muted installations. Until recently, her work has remained relatively underappreciated, but the art world is beginning to take notice of her powerful and extensive oeuvre.


For an object to be included in her practice, it must bear signs of life and use. For over six decades Berenhaut has been carefully selecting and incorporating objects like old furniture, garments, and toys in her sculptures. When experiencing one of her installations, an oppressive silence, sadness, or doom hangs in the air. It’s as if an unknown human fate is being summoned, the objects expressing a forgotten life story. In her unique visual language, she addresses longing, absence, trauma, and memory.


Vie Privée, the generic title that Marianne has given to her works of the last twenty years, leads the viewer to believe that they are entering a domestic, intimate environment. On the contrary, the artist emphasizes the ever-present connection between "her art" and the social life around her. Her unpretentious and somewhat naive sculptures play on collective emotional memory; to reduce them to nostalgic secondhand objects would be an injustice, like reducing the Shoah to a fait divers


The series Poupées Poubelles (created in the 1970s) is a collection of dolls made from nylon stockings filled with rags, hay, straw, and flowers – each with their own everyday object. This series is characteristic of the latent visual language that the artist so often uses. Of the assemblage Vie Privée : Le Lit (2020), she says, "When it was finished, I was surprised. It looked like nothing I had ever made. Until then, I often talked about loss, about the life I was robbed of, and my childhood. But since I made this sculpture, I've been more concerned with my personal life and my personal fantasies."


Speaking about the "left-behind" objects she collects, she emphatically explains that they are not merely “there”. Whether they were found on the street, at a flea market, or in a garage sale, she allows her discoveries to age undisturbed, waiting for an association or melding that presents itself at the right moment. The sculptures are created without preconceived ideas, and thus tell their story only afterwards, a posteriori.


Marianne Berenhaut (Brussels, 1934) lives and works alternately in Brussels and London. This year, M HKA acquired two of her works, a Poupée Poubelle and Le Lit. They are exhibited together with a number of works on loan.


Marianne Berenhaut creates poetic sculptures with so-called discarded objects. These objects, ranging from kitchen utensils to broken tables and nylon stockings, metal pipes and plates, all bear signs of a history and life. Since the 1960s, Berenhaut has developed an oeuvre that she has divided into four periods or families: Maison Sculpture, followed by Poupée Poubelle in the 1970s, Vie Privée since the 1980s, and her most recent work, since 2015, which she refers to as Bits and Pieces. A turning point in her oeuvre is Le Lit from 2000.


Thierry de Duve on her work: “One can only rejoice to see Marianne moving towards reconciliation with her life as a survivor. Her recent work has changed, it is less tragic, more playful, more erotic too. No doubt it will never be free of ambivalence [...]. For her it will always be a question of faithfulness and memory, or of faithfulness to memory, which is a service she renders us – for in Auschwitz, humanity was orphaned of itself, and that is something no one can forget."

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