Executed in 1985, during the early stages of Wim Delvoye’s groundbreaking career, Cabinet (Installation of 35 Delft Saw Blades) is the first example of the artist’s celebrated cabinets. It features 35 exquisite ceramic circular saw blades, including the first one ever made by the artist, covered in meticulous blue Delft patterns and housed within an ornate, two-metre-high wooden cabinet. As the first of Delvoye’s cabinets to be exhibited abroad, shown at Sonnabend Gallery in 1991, the work confronts the viewer as a pristine simulacrum, laced with the strains of irony and subversion central to Delvoye’s neo-conceptual practice. Fascinated by visual languages rooted in Baroque and Gothic splendour, Delvoye’s oeuvre owes much to his early interests in Catholicism’s reverence of symbolic objects. The artist explains, ‘I have vivid memories of crowds marching behind a single statue as well as of people kneeling in front of painted and carved altarpieces … Although I was barely aware of the ideas lurking behind these types of images, I soon understood that paintings and sculptures were of great importance’ (W. Delvoye, quoted in interview with M. Amy, ‘The Body As Machine, Taken to Its Extreme’, in The New York Times, 20 January 2002). Delvoye’s career has since been defined by a rigorous questioning of the nature of objects: like Andy Warhol’s appropriation of mass imagery and Jeff Koons’s highly engineered replicas, Cabinet (Installation of 35 Delft Saw Blades) takes on the quality of a consumerist shrine.
Delvoye’s bold practice has invited comparison with multiple art-historical epochs. As Klara Tuszynski has written, ‘The work of this critic of modern consumerism has often been compared to that of a sixteen-century compatriot, Bruegel, who filled his paintings with incongruous associations bearing the stamp of folklore and the burlesque. Delvoye thus belongs in a specifically Belgian artistic tradition of combining humour, absurdity and incongruity, one that stretches from bambochades to Marcel Broodthaers. But Delvoye’s influences are not limited to this culture of carnivalesque laughter, for he has also been inspired by the decorative features of the Gothic architecture found in abundance in his homeland, and uses rose windows, ogive arches and blazons to decorate the everyday objects that he appropriates from our consumer society’ (K. Tuszynski, quoted in Of Mice And Men, X Rays, exh. cat., Geneva, Galerie Guy Bärtschi, 2008, unpaged).