Berlinde de Bruyckere (b. 1964)
Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's… Read more
Berlinde de Bruyckere (b. 1964)

K 21

Berlinde de Bruyckere (b. 1964)
K 21
stitched horse hide, epoxy resin, iron, wood and glass
76 x 69¾ x 37¾in. (193 x 177 x 96cm.)
Executed in 2006
Casper H. Schübbe, Switzerland.
Acquired from the above by the present owner.
Dusseldorf, Kunsthalle Düsseldorf, Under Cover- aus dem Verborgenen Berlinde de Bruyckere and Martin Honert, 2006-2007.
London, Saatchi Gallery, The Shape of Things to Come, New Sculpture, 2011 (illustrated in colour, p. 37).
Special notice

Artist's Resale Right ("Droit de Suite"). Artist's Resale Right Regulations 2006 apply to this lot, the buyer agrees to pay us an amount equal to the resale royalty provided for in those Regulations, and we undertake to the buyer to pay such amount to the artist's collection agent.
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Lot Essay

'I want to show how helpless a body can be. Which is nothing you have to be afraid of - it can be something beautiful' (B. De Bruyckere, quoted in S. Douglas, 'The Way of All Flesh: Berlinde De Bruyckere's Waxen Corpus', pp. 22-23, Modern Painters, Summer 2009, p. 23).

Within the rigid geometrical forms of a vitrine, a glistening, organic mass is discernable. Its flowing undulations and the sheen of its surface introduce a sensuality that is only heightened by the awareness that it is covered in hair. Gradually, details become increasingly apparent, in particular a mane that runs along a ridge of the exterior. Created in 2006, K 21 is one of Berlinde De Bruyckere's celebrated horse sculptures. This work comprises a reconfigured cast of a body, created from epoxy resin but partly based on casts taken from horses, and then covered in a stitched horse hide - always sourced from an animal that has died of natural causes. It was a sister work of this sculpture, K 36, which was shown to great acclaim in the Venice Biennale in 2003; De Bruyckere exhibited another horse-hide work at the Berlin Biennale in 2006, the year that K 21 was created, having been invited by the curators of the Berlin Biennale, including Maurizio Cattelan.

Unlike Cattelan's often-playful use of taxidermy in his sculptures, De Bruyckere has used the horse's hide in K 21 to coat and add lustre to an absorbingly abstract and beautiful form. From one side, it appears to be a surging mass that eludes our immediate understanding. Yet on closer inspection, details appear, hinting at the fact that this is indeed a horse that has been reassembled according to new, abstract aesthetic imperatives, rather than the functionality that formerly defined its existence in the age before mechanical transport. In K 21, De Bruyckere has disrupted our expectations: none of the dynamism of a horse in motion is discernible here. In contrasts to, say, a rearing Stubbs horse, here the mutated form of the body is without legs, without mobility, and therefore without the key attributes of those creatures. Even the head is shown devoid of some of its features. For De Bruyckere, this is critical, as she has explained: 'at the last moment I decided I didn't want to see a face, nor a muzzle, I sometimes only want to keep a reference to the ears, which are somehow what make it a cuddly animal' (B. De Bruckere, quoted in 'Berlinde De Bruyckere', The absence of a real 'face' in K 21 means that there is no central point of focus - instead, the viewer contemplates this abstract form in its entirety.

It is in the appreciation of K 21 in its entirety, rather than as a portrait or image of a creature, that it gains its abstract strength. With its incredible sense of bulk, there is an intricate play of masses in this sculpture, not least in the contrast provided by the thinner head and neck tucked underneath, which emphasises the heft of the rest of the sculpture. This introduces the use of negative space, creating a mysterious chasm that is visible primarily from one side. The arching, looping forms recall abstract, modernist sculptures such as those of Barbara Hepworth, or even the semi-abstracted works of Henry Moore. However, the presence of the pelt of the horse adds an uncanny element that blurs the boundaries both between life and death and between abstraction and figuration. De Bruyckere has provocatively used this highly evocative material, resulting in a jarring yet nonetheless desperately beautiful sculptural form.

Looking at K 21, the hide of the horse means that the presence, or absence, of the original creature is emphatically and viscerally conjured. This chimera-like, deliberately twisted reimagining of the horse presents the viewer with a striking inversion of the selective breeding and carefully-managed bloodlines of the world of horse racing, yet De Bruyckere's sculpture has its own purpose. De Bruyckere is fascinated by bodies, be they equine or human. In some of the first works with which she gained public recognition, she used blankets to evoke the impression of missing, vulnerable people, of huddling refugees. Later, that absence was countered by a very vivid presence: in some of her sculptures, De Bruyckere creates what appear to be mutated, mutilated bodies. With their skin and blemishes and sometimes flesh and wounds vividly displayed, these works have a sensual, tactile quality that is echoed, albeit in a different register, in the horse hair surface of K 21.

Those other works recall the martyrdoms in Old Master pictures, and tap into the canon of beauty of religious art, a frame of reference that has been made explicit in exhibitions in which her sculptures have been shown in 'dialogue' with those artistic predecessors, for instance last year in Venetian and Flemish Masters at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Brussels. Similarly, De Bruyckere's horse sculptures may have their roots in such horrific images of the fragility of the body, yet like those Baroque visions, they have evolved into objects of serene and mysterious beauty. Her horse sculptures had their inception in 1999, when De Bruyckere was working as the artist in residence at the In Flanders Fields Museum. There, she was struck by the photographs of dead horses, uncomprehending casualties of the First World War. De Bruyckere used sculptures of horses with splayed limbs to evoke this carnage; since then, this subject matter has evolved, gaining a flowing lyricism as is the case in the rippling, dully reflective forms of K 21, and becoming one of the most recognised aspects of her work. She has managed to imbue these horses' bodies with an incredible beauty, subverting the form of these striding, prancing thoroughbreds and instead showing them as abstract forms with their own internal dynamism.

In the case of K 21, this abstraction is heightened by the contrast between the soft, undulating and twisting form of the horse, with its glistening skin and pelt, and the crisp geometry of the vitrine in which it is shown. This was a deliberate decision on De Bruyckere's part: she invokes the clinical world of samples and of exhibits as well as the sculptural language of, say, Minimalism. Museum and gallery blur in this use of a glass-fronted presentation cabinet, which likewise echoes the formaldehyde-containing tanks of Damien Hirst. However, unlike Hirst's explorations of humanity's flawed quests for salvation, De Bruyckere introduces a deeply poetic and resonant sense of fragility, of helplessness and of mortality that inspires pathos and contemplation. As she has said, 'I don't want to scare people, but give them hope' (B. De Bruyckere, quoted in K. Bühler, 'Interview with Berlinde De Bruyckere, 17.10.2011', reproduced at

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