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A Belgian Sculptor on the Perils of Minimalism

The Belgian artist Jos Devriendt may not be a household name, but his delicate porcelain ceramics have graced the interiors of some of the world’s most interesting homes: a formerly derelict cattle-fodder factory in Ghent; jewelry designer Sofie Lachaert’s eponymous gallery-slash-bed and breakfast in Belgium; and a 1920s-era Spanish colonial revival in Los Angeles that was given a minimalist makeover by DISC Interiors in 2016.

Last Thursday, the New York design gallery Demisch Danant opened “I am I,” an exhibition that marks Devriendt’s first solo outing in the city and which presents more than 90 handcrafted lamps, vessels and objects, spanning the artist’s 20-year career. Devriendt, 53, is known for espousing minimalism, though he stops short of defending minimalism for its own sake. It’s simple to make a minimalist object, the shaggy-haired artist explains, “but in the end it’s like so straight,” or fine-tuned to perfection, “that you don’t have an excitement about the forms.” And when that happens, he warns, it becomes boring.

For Devriendt, engaging the viewer is key and minimalism is meaningless without interesting combinations of colors, materials and light. In fact, it is his exploration of the latter, which he defines as “functional sculpture,” that fills the majority of the exhibition: His ongoing “Night and Day” series features anthropomorphic, often mushroom-shaped lamps which are illuminated by natural light during the day and by LED bulbs at night. In their own way, they challenge our assumptions about the purpose of sculpture and the idea of daring to mimic nature itself.

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