SPOMENIK BY BELGIAN ARTIST JAN KEMPENAERS
A few months ago a promising young artist – and recent Bard/ICP graduate – Pierre Le Hors told me that one the most interesting books he had seen at the NY Artist Book Fair at PS1 was “Spomenik” by Belgian artist Jan Kempenaers. He sent me a link to the website of the superb Roma Publications where I could see a sampling of the page spreads. The photographs were of strange concrete monuments with unusual shapes – more sculptural than building-like, yet they carried echoes of Le Corbusier and Niemeyer – especially in the plastic forms – cylinders, starbursts, waves, hollowed out cubes – all made of cast-in-place concrete. Spomenik is a Croatian word for monument and in the late 1960s and early 1970s the socialist government in Yugoslavia built dozens of these monuments, however by the early 1990s they were neglected and in ruins.
The color photographs are probably large-format, straightforward in that the monuments are centered in the composition and their setting amidst grass or trees or placement within low foothills subtly included in the frame of the photograph. The lighting seems neutral and uninflected but not in the insistent Bechers mode.
I liked the photographs but was struck more by the back-story about the artist locating these monuments in Yugoslavia by using a map from the 1970s.
And then a few days ago I saw the book at Dashwood on Bond Street and was surprised by the precise beauty of the photographs and also by the scale. I had mistakenly imagined the book to be quite modest say 9 by 6 inches whereas it is a bit more substantial 13 by 9.5 inches.
You can see the spreads I first saw at http://www.romapublications.org/main.html, but I urge you to seek out the book for the full impact!