Interview with Koen de Decker,  December 18, 2013 by Rebecca Hinde Leave

Koen De Decker

How did you become an artist?

I had this idea that I wanted to be an artist from a very young age. I wasn’t very good in anything but I loved to draw and play with stuff. In my father’s family there where several artists. My grandmother’s house was filled with paintings and sculptures. But most of all she had an attic filled with stuff. I was inspired by that. I loved to play there and to make assemblages with found objects from a very young age.
My mother’s father was a musician and choirmaster. He told me if I wanted to become an artist I would be hungry all the time. He was right. I went to art school when I was 15 at Sint Lukas in Brussels. Every day going to Brussels by train meant that I had to get up much earlier than my friends, but I was motivated.
My mother always hoped I would at least become an architect.
I also did my masters at Sint-Lukas Brussels University College of Art and Design. In the beginning I tried to study in the graphic design department, but after one year of fights I decided to change my focus into free graphics. Back to what I learned in high school, etching, woodprint, those kind of techniques. But even there I was too much in conflict with myself and others.
For my masters I had the luck that I could change again and decided to enter the experimental studio of Lieven Delafortie. We where completely free. From there it felt right.
I graduated in the experimental studio in 1997. When I was still in my last year, I was invited By Narcisse Tordoir as a guest in the graphic studio of the Rijksacademie in Amsterdam for a period of 3 months. He opened the most important door in my life. The Rijks was the most professional art school a young guy like me could imagine, I was only 22 at the time. I applied for a residence there and stayed in Amsterdam for 2 more years.
As I was very young and had no idea what the art world was about, it all happened to me way too early, but I had the time of my life. I met great artists like Dan Graham, Matt Mullican, Richard Deacon, Luc Tuymans, Denys Zacharopoulos, Jac Leirner, Gerardo Mosquera and many others and had the opportunity to study with artist like Carlos Amorales, Tim Stoner, Runa Islam, Gabriel Lester, Guy Bar Amotz, Mosheka langa and many others.
From there I think I decided that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.

The-Valley-by-Luc-Tuymans-2012   Dan-Graham-Girls-Make-up-room-1998-2000.-Via-Whitney-Museum-of-American-Art-580x392
The Valley (of the doomed) by Luc Tuymans 2007                 Dan Graham, Girls Make-up room, 1998-2000. Via Whitney Museum of American Art

Please give three words to describe your work

System, Story ,Idea

If you were only to be known for one of your works, which would it be and why?
I have no idea? I make big temporary sculptures and installations, but they are all part of a way of thinking about the world. Whatever that means. Scale does not matter, in a reproduction everything looks as big as another, I have no scale in my mindmemory.

The (e)state wer’e livin’ in – Koen de Decker

That makes me think about one particular project I did and keep on doing. One of my works is an ongoing project called “The universal scale of all things” it’s a collection of found objects. I like this work. Maybe I could choose this one.

The Universal Scale Of All Things – Koen de Decker

But let us hope that people remember more than one work, because every work is related to another.

Maybe I could choose another one it is a very small and recent Solo show called: ” The attempt as (relevant) action” 

It was in the library of St Lukas, my old school. It was a small project in a vitrine box of 50x200cmx15cm. 
I made it look like a mini museum, took pictures of the work inside and made it look like big spaces. The catalogue I made for this show is now in this library. One day some student will see the little book and think of the work as it was big and spacial work.

vitrine1  vitrine2
That’s how we mostly remember works of art, we mostly know it from reproduction. It would be great to be remembered for this work. But really I would have to look this one up before I could answer your question.

What are you currently working on?

Currently I’m working on an installation for a black exhibition wall of 3x5m Most of my installations are conceptualised for spaces atypical to the white space, this one is alike. It is in a very small cultural center, I’m still in doubt about what I will do here. But the idea of the black wall is interesting. The fact that it is in a small place doesn’t matter to me. Some times engagement is more important than opportunism.
I will have to invite the next artist for this project. I was thinking to ask Jac Leirner for this show, she was one of my advisers at the Rijks, and her work inspired me all along. She also makes work with simple found objects, very interesting work. She uses plastic bags, cigarette paper etc

Rolling level N 3
Wood, paper and plexiglass
130 x 20 x 4 cm
 White Cube Mason’s Yard, London

If you could be given a solo exhibition anywhere in the World, where would it be?

I could say on the moon, but there was already a Belgian artist before me. No Idea, but I don’t think my ambition is to get into the biggest museums, as long as my work is respected, archived and taken care for.
If you could be exhibited alongside any other artist, who would it be and why?
Piranesi, because he shows the human psyche, translated this into a dark and surreal architecture. He is great.

Giovanni Battista Piranesi Untitled etching (called “The Smoking Fire”), plate VI (of 16)
from the series The Imaginary Prisons (Le Carceri d’Invenzione), Rome, 1761 edition (reworked from 1745).

Name one artist’s work you would save if all art were to be destroyed and why?

Probably some early Spilliaert. His early work is absolutely worth to be saved.

Léon Spilliaert – Vertigo, Magic Staircase 1908

Please give three words to describe the contemporary art scene/market:


Who do you consider to be the greatest living contemporary artist and why?
At this moment in my life I have great respect for the work of Thomas Zipp.

Thomas Zipp at Museum Dhondt-Dhaenens 20/04/2008

What do you feel are the qualities required to become a successful artist today?
I always hope making good work would be the only requirement. But to make good art you need some kind of success. Not only because it is motivating, but to keep the machine going.
You need time, money and lots of energy. You have to travel a lot, meet a lot of people, to keep up.
In the end I think you need to be surrounded by good people, in order to make a successful career. To know how to surround yourself with these people would be the best required quality an artist could have.

Do you think an education in art is necessary to be able to appreciate art?
Absolutely not, a lot of good artists are autodidact. School can even kill your creativity, some art-teachers can be very demotivating. But in every art school there is this great person that can make you fly, that opens your mind and make you see things so clear; everything you knew was baggage but some baggage is way too heavy, they help you to clear things out. School can be great for young artists.
I miss that contact a lot in my daily practice as an artist.
But your question was “to be able to appreciate art” Well you need at least an overview of art history to understand what is going on I think, No? All knowledge is in books, but someone explaining it to you with passion can be a mind-blowing experience.

Do you think the money surrounding the art market, in particular the contemporary art market, helps to support art or damages it?

It destroys a lot, art seen as a commercial object is killing the philosophy of the ritual that goes along with the making of. But it is not the money that kills. It’s people. It’s not only dealers and collectors that do so by over-hyping artists, its the artists themselves that want to become this skyrocket.
The best collectors will always buy the best art before it becomes expensive, and that is well spent and honest money. Impulsive buyers are the best.

Why is art important?

Because it is always been around, it made us into who we are. Art changes the world while 90 percent of the people don’t want anything to change.

Why is art not important?
Because you can’t eat paintings.

Koen De Decker Vernissage de l’exposition BATES MOTEL SPACE en Féronstrée 116
– 4000 Liège – le 6-12-2012 – © Michele Chianese

If you could have any other profession in the world, other than being an artist, what would it be?