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“I like Amberes very much, maybe because when I wrote that novel I was a different person, in principle a lot younger and perhaps braver than now. The practice of literature was much more radical than today, because now I try, within certain parameters, to be intelligible.”

Roberto Bolaño


Displaying the raw energy that he would later develop to establish himself as one of the most original writers of his generation, Roberto Bolaño’s early experimental novella Antwerp (Amberes) remains unclassifiable. Written in 1980, but only published in 2002 shortly before the author’s death, Antwerp is a highly-fragmented story, displaying deep irreverence to the form of the novel. Avoiding linear narrative, it progresses using a multiplicity of perspectives, with images, scenes and characters called up in different forms each time. The whole remains elusive.

In Antwerp, detectives, victims, artists, alter-egos and vagabonds inhabit an enigmatic story. Bolaño thematises contemporary reality expressed through topics such as crime and corruption, sexual violence, relative truth, memory and erasure, marginality and urbanism, the male gaze, and the sea as a metaphor, all of which resonate with the history and reality of Antwerp. It is the structure, themes and character archetypes of Antwerp that M HKA takes its inspiration from as modes of reflection in this exhibition, titled Amberes – referring to the book’s title in its original Spanish.

Bart Prinsen, Point of Convergence, 2019. Courtesy of the artist. Installation view at M HKA
Adrien Tirtiaux, A tort ou horizon, 2013-2019. Courtesy Galerie Marin Janda, Vienna. Installation view at M HKA
Laure Prouvost, This piece of WORK was exchanged on St Jan place after digging long and deep tunnels, 2019. Courtesy of the artist and Nathalie Obadia; carlier | gebauer; and Lisson Gallery. Installation view at M HKA

The novella’s actual relation to Antwerp remains elusive and even a bit absurd – “In Antwerp a man was killed when his car was run over by a truck full of pigs” is the seemingly random anecdote that opens chapter 49. Yet, the innovative way of writing – converging many styles, scenarios, characters and perspectives – resonates with the characteristics of visual art in, or inspired by, the city – a scene which also comprises many positions, generations, dynamics, and comings and goings. An exhibition in Antwerp taking inspiration from the book might adopt the multiplicity of perspectives Antwerp mobilises, as a way to provide reflections on the city, and how artists translate experiences of the city into different forms.

Alongside the exhibition, M HKA will also print the first Dutch translation of Roberto Bolaño’s Amberes.

Danny Devos, Wurger van de Linkeroever 1, 1994. Collection Flemish Community. Courtesy of the artist. Installation view at M HKA
Mathieu Verhaeghe, Feestvarken, 2015-2019. Courtesy of the artist. Installation view at M HKA
Rinus Van de Velde, Given only one life, 2019. Courtesy Tim Van Laere Gallery. Installation view at M HKA
Paul Hendrikse, Quiet Signs, 2019. Courtesy of the artist. Installation view at M HKA


Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven, Imogen Stidworthy, Sophie Podolski, Cevdet Erek, Michèle Matyn, Andrea Fraser, Luc Deleu, Georges Smits, Allan Sekula, Laure Prouvost, Luc Tuymans, Bart Prinsen, David Lamelas, Jimmie Durham, Katrin Kamrau, Ruth Sacks, Walter Swennen, Chantal Peñalosa, Nicolás Uriburu, Stephen Willats, Paul Hendrikse, Marlene Dumas, Rinus Van de Velde, Danny Devos, Eva Donckers, Alain Ayers, Mathieu Verhaeghe, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Adrien Tirtiaux, Laurie Parsons, Gordon Matta-Clark, Hugo Roelandt, Ria Pacquée and items from the Roberto Bolaño Archive.

Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp – M HKA, Leuvenstraat 32, Antwerp

7 Jun – 15 Sep 2019

Featured image: Ria Pacquée, I didn’t do it, 2016. Courtesy of the artist. Installation view at M HKA

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