VUB professor and art historian Hans De Wolf dies on 17 June

Anyone who met him was invariably amazed by his boundless energy, enthusiasm and passion for art and artists. Hans De Wolf (1961) died on Monday following a long illness.

Photo: Jean Cosyn
Photo: Jean Cosyn
Hans De Wolf studied at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and Columbia University in New York. In 2002, he obtained his PhD with a comprehensive and fundamentally innovative interpretation of one of the most important works by French artist Marcel Duchamp, La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires même.

From 1998, De Wolf was involved in the development and realisation of several exhibitions at the Neue Nationalgalerie of Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin’s museum of contemporary art. He gave seminars on theoretical art at the Berlin-Weissensee Art Academy since 2002. In 2004, he was appointed professor of art history and aesthetics at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel and recruited by the Paleis voor Schone Kunsten as a senior consultant to develop relations with Germany in particular.

In 2005, the Universitaire Associatie Brussel commissioned him to establish the Kunstenplatform (known as the Brussels model), creating an institutional environment where artists from the EhB departments RITCS and Conservatorium could carry out innovative artistic research with VUB scientists, including via the doctorate in arts. De Wolf was one of the driving forces behind this academic degree that enabled artists to become PhDs with a dissertation or body of artistic work.

He then launched a series of prestigious research projects involving some of the best-known artists in Belgium.

In 2009, De Wolf’s vision of cultural diplomacy took on a new dimension when he was commissioned by the Brussels government to create a first exhibition project for the Shanghai 2010 world expo. Cultural diplomacy involves using art as an alternative means of maintaining contacts in sometimes difficult regimes. Various other projects would follow, all designed according to the same philosophy. They brought some of the best artists in Belgium to cities such as Beijing, Hangzhou, Seoul, Gwangju and Chengdu.

Over the years, he developed a unique methodology that should be seen as the strengthening of cultural and academic diplomacy, in which exhibitions are the driving force behind intensive exchange with local universities and academies. "All Hans De Wolf’s projects are wake-up calls for the local economic, academic and cultural community, which are heavily involved in its realisation," said Jan Cornelis, VUB emeritus professor. "This enables those communities to gain insights into entirely new creative methods and approaches."

Through this work, Hans De Wolf wanted to raise Brussels’ profile and reputation on the world stage.

On the VUB campus, too, he had a major impact. In October 2019, the opening of Pilar and the new cultural infrastructure took place in tandem with the large-scale exhibition JRSLM, for which Hans De Wolf brought masterpieces to VUB and the nearby Usquare. At the opening of the restored main building of Usquare Brussels on 15 February 2024, he gave an inspiring explanation to the assembled audience of the work of Congolese artist Geraldine Tobe, which was given a permanent place here.

Hans De Wolf’s academic and professional career is testament to his impressive engagement in both artistic and academic projects, in which he builds a bridge between the two worlds. His work has thus contributed to international exchange between artists and academics.

The Platform, 2005 Establishment of the Kunstenplatform, an institutional framework for implementing artistic research, also known as the Brussels model, with an important role in the integration of art and science.

Brussels Body Speech, Minsheng Art Museum, Shanghai 2010

Jeff Wall: The Crooked Path, Paleis voor Schone Kunsten (Bozar), Brussels 2011 Art history project about Canadian photographer Jeff Wall, created in close collaboration with the artist.

Wanderlust, Art Sonje Center, Seoul 2012 / Gwangju Museum of Art, Gwangju 2013 / Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), Chengdu 2013

Master Mould & Copy Room, Central Academy of Art Museum (CAFA), Beijing 2014

Chinese Utopias Revisited: The Elephants, Paleis voor Schone Kunsten (Bozar), Brussels 2015 Exhibition of contemporary Chinese artists

Forme e Anti Forme, Fonderia Artistica Battaglia, Milan 2015

Xu Bing: Worlds of Words/Goods of Gods, Triennale, Milan 2016

JRSLM: Paradise Lost Again, VUB (Pilar/USquare), Brussels 2019

Paradise Projects, VUB (USquare), Brussels 2021

KALUNGA: Vous n’êtes pas prêt pour ça, VUB-The Lever House, Brussels 2022 Laetoli Amfitheater, VUB-Theater Aan Zee, performance by Honoré d’O, Ostend 2022 Hans De Wolf recently worked again with Chinese artist Xu Bing on a new project intended to reconnect Europe and Asia. -

In memoriam Hans De Wolf