Even a month after the exhibition officially closed, we keep going back to photos of the wonderful exhibition/install Nel Aerts built at the hall of M-Museum Leuven in Belgium. More than matching the institution’s goal to host an "exciting and unique mix of historical and contemporary art," this vibrant presentation includes both new and older work, including a series of new sculptures showcased for the first time by the Belgian artist. 


For The Waddle Show: A Counteract, Aerts built a custom entry into the space, based on his 2019 character from Welcome To The World Of The Snake Charmer piece, which also makes an appearance in the show. Continuing the theme of serpents as the recurring motif in her work, a large sculptural snake-like piece dominates the space, beguiling and guiding the viewers through the presentation. This centerpiece, Der Schlangenbeschwörer (snake charmer) from 2019, is an allegorical manifestation of the artist, originally introduced in her show at Kunsthalle Lingen in Germany earlier this year. Textiles cover the entry hatch, the walls and paintings filling  the installation is part of a dazzling “show” in "a theatrical setting, a consciously constructed and artificial context."


Mirthfully displaying paintings of various sizes and techniques on different levels, the artist  accent the nonchalant, playful flavor of her creations. Primarily based on a simple, cartoon-like figure as core of the work, these images often drift into textural abstraction, while the characters become an audience for the main stage in the midst of the exhibition space populated by totem-like strategically placed  sculptural assemblages, stacks of collectibles and curiosities like literal markers of her past. Once assembled, these items form new relations and meaning as they, a delicate process and fragile balance. Although painting and sculpture dominate the display, Aerts’ oeuvre includes collages, drawings, and textiles, as well as animations, videos, and performances. 

For the occasion, the museum published a book The Wanderer Paintings with Triangle Books, contextualizing the work and cataloging the paintings from 2011 to 2019 as the first monograph dedicated to Nel Aerts’ painting practice. The publication is available in a regular edition of 750 and a limited edition of 25 examples of signed and numbered books, housed in a unique wooden slipcase painted with acrylic, spray paint and pyrography. —Sasha Bogojev