"Sint-Jan": SAINT BAVO CATHEDRAL

Article excerpt

"Sint-Jan" was an unusual group show organized by Jan Hoet, director of Documenta 9 (1992) and head of Ghent's SMAK from its founding in 1975 through 2003, in collaboration with independent curator Hans Martens. The show included some seventy works by sixty-four Belgian and international artists and served as a good complement to the concurrent TRACK, the so-called contemporary city conversation, which was a vast project with newly produced site-specific works in many locations throughout Ghent. "Sint-Jan" worked on a smaller scale and within strict physical boundaries (those of the glacial stone walls of the city's Saint Bavo Cathedral) to explore a more focused topic: the immemorial link between art, religion, and spirituality.

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"Sint-Jan" took its name from Saint John the Baptist, to whom the cathedral was originally devoted some eleven centuries ago, but it could easily be interpreted as a reference to the show's revered primary curator as well. On the cover of a local magazine, Hoet was photographed with a lamb in his arms, as if in a portrait of his namesake. The association is perhaps not unwarranted, given Hoet's stature in both the local and international art communities. Google his name and chances are you'll find the phrase "one of the popes of contemporary art." Hoet must have had to play this card often to match the severity and stubbornness of the Church--and it enabled him to work without being crippled by the tight budgets that plague exhibitions today. Since he and Martens asked no remuneration for their work on the show, they could call on the goodwill of artists, collectors, and suppliers, such as insurance companies, print shops, caterers, and so on, all of whom donated their work free, asserting an altruism rare in today's rampantly capitalist society.

The show revealed many perspectives on the relation between art and religion, some of them critical or subversive. …