Jan Fabre portrait - Photo Credits Artist's Website

Jan Fabre

Belgium 1958

Installation, Sculpture, Performance Art, Painting, Drawing


Jan Fabre
Jan Fabre
July 29, 2013
Bojan is an author for Widewalls. He is particularly interested in English linguistics and culture. Bojan is also interested in Photography and Digital Art.

The enchantment with ephemeral, unseen and cathartic in the work of Jan Fabre takes the central position. Those features are always framing the narrative and are omnipresent regardless of the media. Fabre seems to be deeply inspired not only by the achievements of the certain epoch in an artistic sense, rather it is the philosophy, anthropology, and even spirituality which govern him in pursuing imagination always one step further. As a matter of fact, his provocative forays into all different art forms are aimed at breaking down the artistic and moral barriers. That is why Fabre’s work should not be considered as a mere aesthetical and formal foreplay, yet it should be perceived as a concise and radical practice aimed to point out the complexity of contemporaneity.

Jan Fabre – Globo, 1997 – image via musefirenze.it

The Begging and Fast Success

Jan Fabre is born in 1958 in Antwerp. He studied window dressing at the Municipal Institute of Decorative Arts and the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp. In between 1976 and 1980 Fabre wrote his first scripts for the theater and made his début performances. From 1980 he began his career as a stage director and stage designer, while around the same time, thanks to the Jan Hoet, curator and the founder of Belgian Stedelijk Museum, the artist travels to New York, where he gives lectures and performances. Simultaneously, Fabre produces drawings, in situ interventions and sculptures and exhibits around Europe.

Peculiar objects are often partly made out of stuffed animals

This Belgian artist formed a radical and avant-garde theatre group named Troubleyn in the mid 80’s
Jan Fabre – Le Problème I, 2001 – image via ent300heavenofdelight.weebly.com

Radical Performances of Jan Fabre

Practically, from the first public performance, the activity of Jan Fabre became the media topic depending from the delicacy of the concept. From burning money, using his own blood, locking himself in the white room for three days, the artist used rather explicit and radical language in order to express his ideas. Jan Fabre basically belongs to the second generation of artists working with the body as a material, yet his concepts introduced a new approach to performativity since body performance became conjoined with traditional theater. The other significant element besides the body is a real time which he used to extend the experience respectively that those durational pieces completely overwhelm the audience.[1]

Some sculptures of Jan Fabre can be found in public spaces

In 2011 and 2013 various information could be found in the press about his projects
Jan Fabre – Chapters Series I – VIII, 2010 – image via pinterest.com

Bic Art and Large Scale Sculptures

Besides the performances, during the 80’s Jan Fabre became famous for his Bic-art or ballpoint drawings and started sending handmade postcards over the world over, combining mail art and performance. On the other hand, for the production of sculptures, he started using both unconventional materials like carapaces of beetles as well as the traditional ones like bronze and marble. Those unusual three-dimensional things can be similar to objects of great symbolism like the urinal, a microscope, a Latin cross, a dress, hooded mantle, human bone mounted on wire-mesh supports, and apparently they are thought as allegories.

Installments reflect almost sacred atmosphere

The English and deutsch dancers and actors gladly became involved with the famous Fabre’s group
Jan Fabre – Thinking Model I, 2012 – image via museumtoscale.com

The Controversy Surrounding The Work of Jan Fabre

In 2012, several media reported how during a shoot in the Antwerp town hall for a forthcoming film on Fabre, living cats were thrown repeatedly several meters spinning into the air, after which they made a hard landing on the steps of the entrance hall.Supposedly, the filming was aborted due to protests from the crew’s own technicians, while Fabre claimed that the animals were just fine and it was a media spin created by the right wing political party. Besides receiving enormous number of letters of protest, the artist was even physically attacked. Last year, Fabre was asked by the Greek Ministry of Culture to work as a Creative Director of the annual Athens – Epidaurus Festival. After only two months, he abandoned the whole project due to his plan to turn Greece’s major arts festival into a tribute to Belgium and devote eight of the festival’s ten productions to those from his homeland, which was not acceptable to the organizers. The same year, the Russian State Hermitage museum staged the Fabre’s exhibition which drew a lot of criticism from visitors and institutes such as the Russian Orthodox Church due to a large number of stuffed animals in strange poses.

Fine art objects fulfilled with satire

In 2008 and 2011 Troubleyn theatre group performed a piece full of energy and power
Jan Fabre – Zeno Brains and Oracle Stones, 2014, Installation view – image via daily-norm.com

The Main Ideas Behind The Work

Almost the whole oeuvre of Jan Fabre is very much influenced by the research carried out by the French naturalist and entomologist, Jean-Henri Fabre (1823-1915). That is how he developed the fascination with the world of insects and other creatures at a very young age. The artist often mentions the inspiration driven from the works of Edward O. Wilson and Barry Bolton, philosophers of sorts. Bolton studied ants—insects that lead social lives—and Wilson is the author of Consilience: The Unity of Knowledge. In the late seventies, while studying at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the Municipal Institute of Decorative Arts and Crafts in Antwerp, he explored ways of extending his research to the domain of the human body. In general, the concept of metamorphoses is what triggers Fabre the most, so the whole practice of his can be perceived in regards to the transhumanism. The very idea of transcending human condition by enhancing it and appropriating characteristic of animals or plants respectively natural world or technological inventions.

Jan Fabre – Searching for Utopia, 2015 – image via wikimedia.org

The Eternal Inspiration

For early childhood, Fabre was rather exposed to the works of Flemish Old Masters. Formal language, immense skillfulness, as well as conceptual approach, intrigue him still. Especially, the fascination with the conceptual aspect of baroque painting and sculpture, which was embedded in allegory, is notable in his work. On the other hand, if we are about to compare Fabre’s works with the idea of total artwork, or in German Gesamtkunstwerk, which is a synthesis of many art forms. So, by appropriating various media and materials, by radically executing them in various contexts, Fabre creates astonishing and highly imaginative narratives which are socially and politically driven.

Jan Fabre is always governed by the ephemeral and grandiose tactics

Jan Fabre’s works have been on view in large number of solo and group exhibitions
Jan Fabre – Mount Olympus, 2016, performance – image via kaitheatre.be

The Ongoing Innovation of Jan Fabre

Although Jan Fabre established the theatrical company in 1986, and over the years gained quite a reputation as a theater director, he never neglected the work with other media. At the same time, the artist is also a philosopher and from 1999 runs magazine Janus. In 2001 Fabre collaborated with sociologist-anthropologist Dietmar Kamper and the philosopher Peter Sloterdijk on a film titled The Problem (Homage to Dietmar Kamper). In 2016 Fabre realized a new project Mount Olympus, a 24-hour spectacle which somehow embodies all the features of the artist’s aesthetics, passions, and devotions. Nevertheless, despite his astonishing and hybrid activity, Fabre claims that he is not an eclectic artist, not a multi-media artist. No matter how he would classify himself, without the doubt Jan Fabre is one of the world’s most prominent contemporary artist.

Jan Fabre lives and works in Antwerp.


  1. Semenowicz, D.(2010): Man is a Beautiful Animal, Culture Congress [January 27, 2016]

Featured image: Portrait of Jan Fabre – image courtesy of the artist
All images used are for illustrative purposes only

YearExhibition TitleGallery MuseumSolo Group
2016Sacrum CerebrumBRAFA, BrusselsSolo
2016Jan Fabre. Knight of the NightRonchini Gallery, London Solo
2016Jan Fabre. Spiritual GuardsForte Belvedere, Piazza della Signoria, Palazzo Vecchio, FlorenceSolo
2016Jan Fabre. Vanitas Vanitatum, Omnia VanitasDEWEER Gallery, OtegemSolo
2016 Jan Fabre. Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in Congo Het Noordbrabants Museum, ‘s HertogenboschSolo
2016 Intrigantes incertitudesMAM, St-Etienne Group
2016Divine decadenceKasteel van Gaasbeek, Gaasbeek Group
2016GLASSVilla Vescovi, Padova Group
2016Jan Fabre – Sjoerd Buisman – Timothy SegersAAR, AmsterdamGroup
2015Jan Fabre. Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in Congo (2011 – 2013). Jan Fabre. Tribute to Belgian Congo (2010 – 2013)Galerie Daniel Templon, ParisSolo
2015Facing Time. Rops - FabreMusée Félicien Rops, la Maison de la Culture, Saint-Loup Church, Namur Solo
2015 Jan Fabre. Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in Congo (2011 – 2013), Wetterling Gallery, Stockholm Solo
2015Jan Fabre. The Lime Twig ManAt The Gallery, AntwerpSolo
2015Jan Fabre. Stigmata. Actions & Performances 1976-2013M HKA, AntwerpSolo
2015Jan Fabre. Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in CongoEspace Louis Vuitton, Tokyo Solo
2015Knight of the NightGaleria Il Ponte, FlorenceSolo
2015The Years of the Hour Blue Magazzino RomeSolo
2015Jan Fabre. 30 Years - 7 RoomsDEWEER Gallery, Otegem Solo
2015Sacrum CerebrumArt Bärtschi & Cie, GenevaSolo
2015Jan Fabre. The man who bears the cross At The Gallery, AntwerpSolo
2015 - Metamorphosen. Ovidius en de hedendaagse kunstRijksmuseum Twenthe, TwentheGroup
2014 Jan Fabre. Tribute to Belgian Congo (2010 – 2013). Jan Fabre. Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in Congo (2011 – 2013)PinchukArtCentre, Kiev Solo
2014Jan Fabre. Insectentekeningen en insectensculpturen 1975-1979, Rijksmuseum Twenthe, Twenthe SoloSolo
2014Jan Fabre. Do we feel with our brain and think with our heart?, Galerie Daniel Templon, BrusselsSoloSolo
2014Jan Fabre. Zeno Brains and Oracle Stones La Llotja, Palma de MallorcaSolo
2014Jan Fabre. The Spiritual ScepticAt The Gallery, AntwerpSolo
2014Jan Fabre. Is the brain the most sexy part of the body? (Homage to Jan Hoet by Jan F. and Mario P.)RAM radioartemobile, RomeSolo
2014Jan Fabre. Do we feel with our brain and think with our heart? Magazzino, RomeSolo
2014Health – Something of Value National Bank of Belgium, BrusselsGroup
2013 - Jan Fabre. Gisants (Tribute to E.C. Crosby & K.Z. Lorenz)Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris Solo
2013Jan Fabre. Chalcosoma. Small Bronzes 2006-2012Skulpturenpark Waldfrieden, Wuppertal Solo
2013Jan Fabre. Insektenzeichnungen & Insektenskulpturen 1975-1979Kunsthalle Recklinghausen, Recklinghausen Solo
2013Jan Fabre. Chalcosoma. Small Bronzes 2006-2012St. Moritz Art Masters, St. Moritz Solo
2013Jan Fabre. Stigmata. Actions & Performances 1976-2013MAXXI, Rome Solo
2013Jan Fabre. Hommage àJé rô me Bosch au CongoPalais des Beaux-Arts, LilleSolo
2013Jan Fabre. Illuminations. Tré sors d’enluminures des musé es de France. Jan Fabre. Chalcosoma, Palais des Beaux-Arts, Lille SoloSolo
2013Jan Fabre. The Years of the Hour Blue 1977– 1992, Busan Museum of Art, BusanSoloSolo
2013 BabelLe Botanique, Brussel Group
2012Jan Fabre. Les années de l’Heure Bleue. Dessins et sculptures, 1977-1992 Musée d’Art Moderne de Saint-Etienne Métropole, Saint-Etienne Solo
2012Art kept me out of jail. Performance installations by Jan Fabre 2001-2004-2008UGM | Maribor Art Gallery, MariborSolo
2012Jan Fabre. Pietas, Parklood Park Spoor Noord, Antwerp Solo
2012Offering to the God of InsomniaMario Mauroner Contemporary Art, SalzburgSolo
2012Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in CongoMario Mauroner Contemporary Art, Salzburg Solo
2012Jan Fabre. KerkmeesterDe Nieuwe Kerk, Amsterdam - Pride Comes Before a Fall of the Lash, Gallery 604, Busan, Korea Solo
2012Zeno Brains and Oracle Stones Mario Mauroner Contemporary Art, Vienna Solo
2012Jan Fabre. Chapters I–XVIII. Waxes & BronzesRoyal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Brussels Solo
2012Jan Fabre. Chalcosoma. Small Bronzes 2006-2012Guy Pieters Gallery, Knokke-HeistSolo
2012One man’s death is another man’s chocolate & 9 ChaptersGalerie Klüser, MunichSolo
2012Jan Fabre. Insektenzeichnungen & Insektenskulpturen 1975-1979, Museum für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Eupen Solo
2012Art is a Medusa Giuseppe de Nittis Gallery – Palazzo della Marra, BarlettaSolo
2012 Glasstress 2012 Museum of Arts and Design, New YorkGroup
2011 Jan Fabre. Hortus Corpus, Kröller-Müller Museum, OtterloSolo
2011Jan Fabre. The Carnival of the Dead Streetdogs & The Catacombs of the Dead StreetdogsGalerija Vzigalica, Ljubljana Solo
2011Jan Fabre. Borrowed Time – Photographs and DrawingsMestna Galerija – Mgml , City Art Museum, LjubljanaSolo
2011Jan Fabre. Umbraculum Tobacna 001 Cultural Centre, Galerija 001, Ljubljana Solo
2011Jan Fabre, Chimères & Portrait d’un artiste en evasion Galerie Daniel Templon, Paris Solo
2011Jan Fabre, The Jewels of Death. Bic Blue DrawingsMAM – Mario Mauroner Contemporary Art Gallery, ViennaSolo
2011 Jan Fabre. Die Jahre der Blauen Stunde Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna Solo
2011Jan Fabre. Pietas, Nuova Scuola Grande di Santa Maria della Misericordia54. Biennale di Venezia, Venice Solo
2011Jan Fabre. Art kept me out of jailMuzeum Sztuki Lodz, Lodz Solo
2011Brain Models and Drawings by Jan Fabre3rd Thessaloniki Biennale of Contemporary Art, Thessaloniki Concert Hall-Building M2, Thessaloniki Solo
2011 Jan Fabre. Tribute to Hieronymus Bosch in Congo Magazzino d’arte moderna, RomeSolo
2011 MonanismMuseum of Old and New Art in Tasmania, Hobart TasmaniaGroup
2010 Umbraculum para Medellin, un lugar en la sombra para reflexionar y trabajarMAMM Museo de Arte Moderno de Medellin, Medellin Solo
2010Le temps empruntéMuseo Carlo Bilotti Aranciera di Villa Borghese, Rome Solo
2010Jan Fabre. Chapitres I -XVIII. Cires & BronzesGuy Pieters Gallery, Paris Solo
2010Jan Fabre. Brain Drawings & ModelsGalerie Clara Maria Sels, Düsseldorf Solo
2010Alternative humanities: Jan Fabre & Katsura Funakoshi 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, KanazawaSolo
2010De geleende tijdMuseum de Fundatie, ZwolleSolo
2010Art kept me out of jail. Performance installations by Jan Fabre 2001-2004-2008 M HKA, Antwerp Solo
2010Umbracululm para São Paulo, um lugar na sombra para pensar e trabajarInstituto Tomie Ohtake, São PauloSolo
2010Jan Fabre. Is the Brain the Most Sexy Part of the Body? Topkapi Palace, IstanbulSolo
2010The State of Things. BrusselsBeijing, BOZAR, BrusselsGroup
2009Project Mesrine & Is the brain the most sexy part of the body?Galerie Bernd Klüser, MunichSolo
2009Something Else!!!MAN_Museo d’Arte Provincia di Nuoro, NuoroGroup
2008 De geleende tijd Le temps emprunté, BOZAR, Brussels (cat.)Group
2008Der eigene Weg. Doing it my way. Perspektiven Belgischer Kunst. Perspectives on Belgian ArtMKM – Museum Küppersmühle für moderne Kunst, Duisburg Group
2007Je crache sur ma tombe (modèle de pensée)MAM – Mario Mauroner Contemporary Art, ViennaSolo
2007 I Am As You Will Be The Skeleton in Art, Cheim & Read, New YorkGroup
2006 Jan Fabre. Kijkdozen en Denkmodellen 1977-2004Vlaams Parlement, Lokettenzaal, BrusselsSolo
2006BeaufortTriënnale voor hedendaagse kunst aan zee, Belgian coast Group
2005 Jan Fabre. Mis gotas de sangre, mis huellas de sangre, Galeria Espacio Minimo, MadridGaleria Espacio Minimo, MadridSolo
2005 Visionary Belgium Palais des Beaux-Arts, Brussels Group
2004 Jan Fabre. Umbraculum DASA – Galerie der Deutschen Arbeitsschutz Ausstellung, Dortmund Solo
2004Normal LifeArtandgallery, MilanGroup
2003 Jan Fabre. Sanguis Mantis, Galerie Daniel Templon, ParisSolo
2003BeaufortTriënnale voor hedendaagse kunst aan zee, Belgian coastGroup
2002 Jan Fabre. Gaude succurrere vitae (Verheug u ter hulp te komen aan het leven) S.M.A.K. Solo
2001 Jan Fabre. Swords, Skulls and CrossesGaleria Espacio Minimo, MadridSolo
2001 Sous les ponts, le long de la rivière…, Les vallées de la Pétrusse et de l’Alzette Fort Thüngen, LuxembourgGroup
2000 Jan Fabre. Storage Room of a WarriorAlpha Delta Gallery, AthensSolo
2000 5eme Biennale d’Art contemporain de Lyon. Partage d’exotisme Halle Tony Garnier, LyonGroup
1999 Jan Fabre. Battlefields & BeekeepersDeweer Art Gallery, OtegemSolo
1998 Jan Fabre. PassageHaggerty Museum of Art, MilwaukeeSolo
1998 SkinThe Israel Museum, JerusalemGroup
1997 Jan Fabre. Passage – ProlazMuzej Suvremene Umjetnosti, ZagrebSolo
1997La pittura fiamminga e olandesePalazzo Grassi, VeniceGroup
1996 Jan Fabre. PassageLudwig Múzeum, BudapestSolo
1995 Jan Fabre. Dÿe den nest weet Dÿe weeten. Dÿen roft dÿ heeten. Vier nieuwe sculpturenDe Vleeshal, Middelburg Solo
1995Watou ’95. Dichters rond de beeldende kunstenaar Jan Fabre, 3 x 7 Kamers, 3 x 7 Gedichten WatouGroup
1994 Jan Fabre. The Grave of the Unknown Computer Galerie beaumontpublic, LuxembourgSolo
1993 Jan Fabre. Zeichnungen – Objekte – ZeichnungenKunstverein Hannover, HannoverSolo
1993Azur Fondation Cartie, Jouy-en-Josas Group
1992 Jan Fabre. Zeichnungen – Objekte – ZeichnungenKunstverein Hannover, HannoverSolo
1992 Mito Annual ’93. Another World Art Tower Mito Contemporary Art Gallery, TokyoGroup
1991 Jan Fabre. Zwei ObjektenSchirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, Frankfurt am MainSolo
1991WanderliederStedelijk Museum, AmsterdamGroup
1990 Jan Fabre. Tivoli Galerie Ronny Van de Velde, AntwerpSolo
1990 Artisti (della Fiandra) Palazzo Sagredo, 44. Biennale di Venezia, VeniceGroup
1989 - Jan Fabre. Insecten en RuimteMuseum Overholland, AmsterdamSolo
1989 Open MindMuseum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Ghent Group
1988 Jan Fabre. Der blaue RaumKünstlerhaus Bethanien, BerlinSolo
1988Signaturen. Rond honderd tekeningen van Beuys en WolsMuseum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Ghent Group
1987 Het Uur BlauwDe Selby, AmsterdamSolo
1987 Uit het oude Europe - From the Europe of OldStedelijk Museum, AmsterdamGroup
1985 Jan Fabre. TekeningenMuseum van Hedendaagse Kunst, Ghent Solo
1985AanwinstenMuseum Boijmans Van Beuningen, RotterdamGroup
1984Jan Fabre. Vrienden… Provinciaal Museum, Hasselt (cat.)Solo
198441e Biennale di VeneziaGiardini della Biennale, Belgian Pavillon, VeniceGroup
1982 The Money Art ExhibitionZeno-X Gallery, AntwerpGroup
1981 Ilad of the Bic Artthe Bic Art Room, Salon Odessa, LeidenSolo
1980 Jan Fabre. Mond-Oog-Oor Arts (Will Doctor Fabre cure you?)Gallery Workshop 77, AntwerpSolo
1979 Jan Fabre. WetskamerGallery Workshop 77, AntwerpSolo
1979 Arte fiamminga contemporaneaPalazzo Rucellai, FlorenceGroup