Lieven's Blog

What's on my mind...

All men are unique... and some are very special

clipboard-with-pencil_16x16This week they buried Jan Hoet, one of the world’s leading personalities in contemporary art. Since I was young I was intrigued by him. The way he talked, the way he presented art, the way he argued when debating, his strong and sharp opinions… it inspired me. However I must admit that I did not always fully understood what he meant, but what he said was beautiful in it self. Art and communication, it belongs together. I remember how he described the art of Andy Warhol and his exhibition on art by psychiatric patients that was depicted next to international renown artists…it was sometimes difficult; to see the difference. And his passion for boxing…a passion I understand so well. He gave so much to his city Ghent, to his country and to the world of contemporary art…

In 2005, I called him. I was writing a book and I wanted to interview him. But more than that I wanted to have his opinion about my book project. Very aware that he would be blunt and clear about what he thought of my work, I was a little scared when I went to the meeting in the S.M.A.K. (his museum in Ghent). We sat down and he said “Do you mind that my good friend will join our interview? We grew up together and maybe he has some good stories to tell about me too?”. The interview was fascinating and chaotic. I enjoyed every moment of it. The two man talked and debated every time I asked a question. And I was happy that I had my tape recorder with me, because it was not possible to listen to the flood of information that the two men created and to write everything down at the same time. It was the time of his exhibition “My Private Hero” in Herford, Germany. His friend asked:”Why do you call it - my private hero- why not just Hero? Hitler for example, was he a real hero?” Jan replied:”No Hitler was not a private Hero, he was the masses. That’s something different…” and this went on during the whole interview.
After a while I finally dared to ask what he thought about my project… I remember how relieved I felt when he said “This project is important. Most people get it all wrong. But the way you approach it is right.” It might sound strange, but his “blessing” meant a lot to me and gave me confidence and energy to carry through the project till the end.

My favourite moment during the interview was when I asked him to tell me a story about him that he had not told many people yet. His answer: “People laugh and are opposed, just because something is different. I remember that at school I wore short trousers. One day I came to school with long trousers and everyone made fun of me. When you wear for the first time long trousers, people laughed at you.” “Thirty years later it was the same. As curator of S.M.A.K. I bought for the first time a Panamarenko and everybody in Belgium was against me. I could not sleep and I was afraid to go out of the house. I had no car in those days so I rode my bike to the museum. During my ride I tried to avoid the bakery and other places because I was so afraid that they would criticise me. All the newspapers were against me and I couldn’t sleep for days. One night my wife asked me:”Why can’t you still not sleep? Did you had an alternative for the work of Panamarenko?” My answer was “No.” She replied: “So if you had no alternative, then sleep now.” “At that moment I realised that that was it, there was no alternative.” I love this little intimate story because it shows once more that behind every great man stands a strong women.

When the interview was over we went in front of the S.M.A.K. and his friend took our picture. Jan asked me about the book I was carrying with me. “It’s a Chinese and English version of the art of war.”, I replied. He was fascinated and looked through it. He kept on asking questions about it. I said that he could have it as a present. But he kindly refused…while continuing asking his questions. “Jan could you sign it for me instead?” “Yes of course”. He took my pen and wrote his signature on the first page of the book: Jan Hoet. I cherish this copy.

A few weeks later I asked him to review the text of the interview before publishing. He replied the next day and he agreed to write the intro to my book too. Thanks again Jan for this and for everything you gave us. Wherever you are now, I wish you a good journey.