MUHKA, Museum of modern art Antwerp (Belgium) (October 2016 – January 2017)

Conceptual art has a very strong root on French culture, most probably it is originated because language representations and written words are not the same, you never speak French as you write it, and this means that speaking and writing are so far different languages.  Written French is going to be always more formal, the use and selection of vocabulary is selected more carefully, the grammatical structures used are more complicated, by the other hand spoken French is unplanned and uses spontaneous expressions and often French speakers tend to avoid connection words to make complete sentences, something that would make any written statement almost incomprehensible.  Written statements in French are message centered, meaning that the message is the object of communication and the facts around it are the main subject of the message. In contrast, spoken French is centered on the person and expresses feelings towards both speakers and the person to whom the message is addressed.  

Written: Robert Filliuo mourut en 1987

Spoken: Robert Filliou est mort en 1987

Both mean the same, Robert Filliou died in 1987


In the same way that a French man is always struggling to write a letter (Trying to say things to a paper that is impersonal by processing, editing, reconsidering what he is going to say… sometimes lost in the in-between universe of both his natural way of speaking and the white papers who demands him to translate his ideas into non-natural written French), conceptual artists are as well trying to catch up their ideas from this in between universe that divides the world of ideas and the world of language.

And is on this in between space, that the two Frenchmen heroes of this review are living:  Mister Marcel Duchamp who wants to expand and shows us that the art experience lays down on the universe that separates the idea and the language, and Mister Robert Filliou who understand that the in between universe that exists in the middle of language and ideas is an organized system of codes.


Amongst these systems proposed by Filliou, we can list the most remarkable that are: The Eternal Network (of like-minded people all over the world); the Genial Republic (whose territory can be claimed by anyone at any time); the Principle of Equivalence (a direct attack on the primacy of aesthetic judgment in Western culture: “it doesn’t matter if something is well made, badly made or not made at all”); Teaching and Learning as Performance Arts (the title of a “multi-book” from 1970) and, perhaps most importantly, Permanent Creation.


For the last one, the principle of Permanent Creation, Filliou had a strong influence of Buddhism.  From 1953 to 1957 Filliou was engaged by the United Nations to develop a program of reconstruction of South Korea.  Little is know about this period and what kind of influences he received as an artist, neither we know if he was actively creating and doing art.  Notwithstanding, it is certain that during this period Filliou experienced a big impact on his philosophy and mentality that marked the rest of his career as an artist as well has changed his personal life. For his principle of Permanent Creation, Filliou describes a list of the principle of Buddhism, doctrine that is fundamental to understand his work. Like the above said is reflected in the following poem:

LE FILLIOU IDEAL: (The ideal Filliou)

not deciding

not choosing not wanting

not owning

aware of self

wide awake




It is very relevant to make think about a conceptual artist and the fundamental doctrines of Buddhism as it has been the work of the conceptual artist to dematerialise the work of art and, as Buddhism preaches to transcend on a spiritual level, conceptual art wants us to transcend into the level of the pure idea.  The work of Filliou is suggesting us a combination of these two processes.


Filliou was as well a writer and a poet, to finalize my review I let you read my favorite of his texts:

Bad, BAD news! Who hasn’t had bad news? The contrary of good news. Everybody has had bad news, including Mister Blue. His come on postcards, all through the week. He receives lots of postcards: one, two, three, or even four, every day. Of course, some of them bring good news. And still, others bring no news at all: they are the easiest ones to answer. Good news gives no trouble. As a matter of fact, they are meant to take the troubles away. Mister Blue reads them first, as soon as the mailman brings them to his door. Such things as yes, OF COURSE. RIGHT. HI THERE. YOU BET YOU. OK… are fun reading, being good news. There is nothing to add to that but to laugh, or smile, or wink, or jump, or dance, or clap. But with bad news, it’s different. Real bad news such as NO. NEVER. NOTHING DOING. OVER MY DEAD BODY. TO THE DEVIL, Gentlemen, can’t be taken lying down. They have to be answered. Mister Blue answers them on Tuesday, all at once. He writes with a pencil, on the same postcards. And here is what he writes: WHY? WHO? WHAT? WHEN? WHERE? and sometimes he adds BECAUSE and WHEREFORE. This is why Mister Blue doesn’t come out of his house on Tuesday. This is why the front door is locked [look for the last two words] This is why there is no storytelling on Tuesday. [Mister Blue from Day-to-Day, 1963/1983, p.7.]

Robert Filliou, Le Siège des idées (The Seat of Ideas), 1976. Private collection, Brussels.


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