4 The precise opening date is shown on the exhibition posters. 5 Author’s conversation with Günther Uecker, 25 May 2010. 6 Ibid. Unfortunately, the artists’ preparations were destroyed by a storm. 7 Earth Art, Andrew Dickson White Museum of Art, Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, 1969. 8 Heinz Mack produced the first plan for the Sahara Project in 1958. A description of the revised plan was then published in the third issue of the magazine ZERO in 1961. Mack installed the project for the first time in the Tunisian desert in 1968, cf. Anette Kuhn, “Reservate der Kunst. Zu den Projekten der ZERO-Zeit”, Utopie und Wirklichkeit im Werk von Heinz Mack, 119-25. 9 Günther Uecker, “Ein paar Gegenfragen”, Die Zeit, 19 September 1969.
After Uecker and Verheyen had worked in the open air for about a week, the exhibition opened at midnight on 23 June 1967 in the presence of numerous visitors.4 The opening was in the style of a “happening”. Outside the castle, torches were stuck in the ground, lighting up the night to highly dramatic effect. According to Uecker, these were an allusion to Verheyen and his Flemish origins: he was the torchbearer for Flemish art.5 At the same time, the German words Flamme (flame) and Flame (a Flemish-speaking Belgian) are very similar — a play on words that Verheyen adopted as his own. For the opening, Uecker and Verheyen had set up a table in the open air, laden with regional specialities. The result was reminiscent of a Flemish still life from the Baroque period.6 One year before the “Earthworks” exhibition was held at the Virginia Dwan Gallery in New York — regarded as the show that heralded the birth of Land Art — and two years before the ground-breaking “Earth Art” exhibition in Ithaca,7 Uecker and Verheyen demonstrated how a real landscape could be used as a means of artistic expression. While “Vlaamse Landschappen” connected with other works by Günther Uecker, for Jef Verheyen this open-air exhibition appears at first glance to have been an unusual event in his artistic career. In the early 1960s, the ZERO artists Heinz Mack, Otto Piene and Günther Uecker had staged openair happenings and developed ambitious projects involving the world of nature. For example, the “Sahara-Projekt” (Sahara Project) was envisaged as a variety of objects placed in the midst of unspoilt nature by Heinz Mack and other like-minded artists.8 While Mack’s Sahara Project set out to create intense and vibrant lighting effects — particularly through the introduction of specially made pieces of art — in “Vlaamse Landschappen” Uecker and Verheyen’s restrained approach emphasised the characteristics of the countryside around Mullem. By the end of the 1960s, more and more artists were finding that conventional exhibition venues had become too narrow, both spatially and conceptually, for their projects. In an article in Die Zeit in 1969, Günther Uecker wrote that “Nowadays, a museum can only exhibit models and vistas which, in turn, represent a demand, which itself can only be met in the new dimensions.“9 The same year, he took part in the exhibition and artists’ symposium “Earth Art”, and devoted an edition of his Uecker-Zeitung to the event. The 186
monography of the works of Jef Verheyen