Wim Delvoye

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Wim Delvoye
Born1965 (age 58–59)
EducationRoyal Academy of Fine Arts, Ghent, Belgium
Known forSculpture

Wim Delvoye (born 1965 in Wervik, West Flanders)[1] is a Belgian neo-conceptual artist widely recognized for combining in his inventive and often shocking projects philosophical ideas, innovative use of materials, and a passion for craftsmanship. He blurs the boundaries between traditional art and the digital realm of contemporary artistic practices, creating aerodynamic, mathematically precise, and intricate sculptures that take the art and design to new levels of invention, while offering a perceptive and playful commentary on contemporary society. As the critic Robert Enright wrote in the art magazine Border Crossings, "Delvoye is involved in a way of making art that reorients our understanding of how beauty can be created".[2] Wim Delvoye has an eclectic oeuvre, exposing his interest in a range of themes, from bodily function, and scatology to the function of art in the current market economy, and numerous subjects in between. He lives and works in Ghent (Belgium).

Early life[edit]

Delvoye was raised in Wervik, a small town in West Flanders, Belgium. He did not have a religious upbringing but has been influenced by the Roman Catholic architecture that surrounded him. In a conversation with Michaël Amy of The New York Times, Delvoye stated, "I have vivid memories of crowds marching behind a single statue as well as of people kneeling in front of painted and carved altarpieces… Although I was barely aware of the ideas lurking behind these types of images, I soon understood that paintings and sculptures were of great importance".[3]

Growing up, Delvoye attended exhibitions with his parents, and his love of drawing eventually led him to art school, the Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Ghent).[4] Delvoye has said that the pessimistic expectations for Belgian art students freed him, essentially making him realize that he "had nothing to lose".[3] Shortly thereafter, Delvoye began painting over wallpaper and carpets, coloring in the existing patterns and defying the tendency towards free expression vibrant in the art world at the time.


Delvoye’s artistic exploration encompasses various aspects of art history, drawing inspiration both from Gothic cathedrals and 19th-century sculptures and the works by Bosch, Brueghel, and Warhol. Simultaneously, he unveils the beauty in everyday objects. Employing a baroque approach that oscillates between homage and irreverence, Delvoye appropriates and distorts motifs that captivate his imagination.

Delvoye considers himself an originator of concepts—he is attracted initially to the theory behind pieces, instead of the act of creating art itself. After 1990, specialists directed by Delvoye have executed most of his work.

In the late 80s, Delvoye applied Dutch ornamental traditions (i.e. Delft china patterns and coats of arms) to mundane objects like shovels, gas cylinders, and ironing boards.

In 1992, Delvoye received international recognition with the presentation of his Mosaic at Documenta IX, a symmetrical display of glazed tiles featuring photographs of his own excrement. The organizer of Documenta IX, Jan Hoet claimed, "The strength of Wim Delvoye lies in his ability to engineer conflict by combining the fine arts and folk art, and playing seriousness against irony".[3]

In the 1990s, Delvoye embarked on a daring experiment with tattoo art, specifically by tattooing the skin of pigs. He exhibited live pigs and dried skins of pigs, both covered in tattoos drawn from the domain of bikers and punk rockers: skulls, daggers, snakes, hearts, and Harley Davidson logos. In 2004, he extended this medium by exhibiting stuffed pigs and by expanding his tattoo vernacular to include Louis Vuitton patterns and images of Disney princesses. By adorning pigskin with these iconic images, the artist raises thought-provoking questions about the commercial value of brands and challenges the conventional expectations of consumer society.

As of the 2000s Delvoye radicalized the critical function of art, exploring the boundaries of commodity art, setting up his Cloaca-project. The machine that simulates the human digestive system, from the process of feeding with various mix of food to the production of the realistic wastes, Cloaca is based on real scientific and technical expertise. It is composed of successive receptacles containing acids, digestive juices, bacteria and enzymes, maintained at a temperature of 37.2°C. Marked by a logo that appears to be a mocking cross between the Mr.Clean and the Coca-Cola logo, Cloaca acts not as a metaphor, but as a concretization of the mechanisms of the modern economy. Its feeding is a demonstrative waste of product that reflects the commercialized mass market loaded with an added value. As an artwork that creates new artwork, it paradoxically gains a new added commercial value that unveils the possibility for endless market manipulation.

With the body of Gothic works that evolved since the early 2000s Delvoye walks a thin line between exploring artistic styles of the past and monumentality – by highlighting the medieval Gothic, interpreting it with contemporary themes and industrial techniques, he is aiming to create a new form of contemporary architecture. The works made of a laser cut corten steel plates reproduce neo-Gothic tracery. The ornaments on the works are not so much used as decorative quotations but as patterns of value and permanence in the modern era.


Delvoye's Cloaca is on permanent display at the Museum of Old and New Art (MONA) in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

Delvoye is perhaps best known for his digestive machine, Cloaca, which he unveiled at the Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst, Antwerp, after eight years of consultation with experts in fields ranging from plumbing to gastroenterology.[5] As a comment on the Belgians' love of fine dining, Cloaca is a large installation that turns food into feces, allowing Delvoye to explore the digestive process. In his large mechanism, food begins at a long, transparent bowl (mouth), travels through a number of machine-like assembly stations, and ends in hard matter which is separated from liquid through a cylinder.[3] Delvoye collects and sells the realistically smelling output, suspended in small jars of resin at his Ghent studio. When asked about his inspiration, Delvoye stated that everything in modern life is pointless. The most useless object he could create was a machine that serves no purpose at all, besides the reduction of food to waste. Cloaca has appeared in many incarnations, including Cloaca Original, Cloaca – New & Improved, Cloaca Turbo, Cloaca Quattro, Cloaca N° 5, and Personal Cloaca.[6] Delvoye also sold specially printed toilet paper as a souvenir of the exhibit. In 2016, 5 rolls from the 2007 Mudam Luxembourg exhibit were offered for re-sale for US$300 through an online vendor.[7]

Commissioned Cloaca for MONA[edit]

Previously, Delvoye claimed that he would never sell a Cloaca machine to a museum as he could never trust that the curator would maintain the installation properly. However, after two years of discussion with David Walsh, Delvoye agreed to construct a custom Cloaca built specifically for the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart, Tasmania. The new installation is suspended from the museum ceiling in a room custom-built for it.[8]

Art Farm[edit]

Though Delvoye started tattooing pig skins taken from slaughterhouses in the United States in 1992, he began to tattoo live pigs in 1997. Delvoye was interested in the idea that "the pig would literally grow in value,"[9] both in a physical and economic sense. He ultimately moved the operation to an Art Farm in China in 2004. The pigs have been inked with a diverse array of designs, including the trivial, such as skulls and crosses, to Louis Vuitton designs, to designs dictated by the pig's anatomy".[10] In an interview with ArtAsiaPacific's Paul Laster, Delvoye described the process of tattooing a live pig, "we sedate it, shave it and apply Vaseline to its skin".[9]

Gothic works[edit]

Delvoye is additionally well known for his “gothic” style work. In 2001, Delvoye, with the help of a radiologist, had several of his friends paint themselves with small amounts of barium, and perform explicit sexual acts in medical X-ray clinics. He then used the X-ray scans to fill gothic window frames instead of classic stained glass. Delvoye suggests that radiography reduces the body to a machine.[3] When he was not an active participant, Delvoye observed from a computer screen in another room, allowing the subjects enough distance to perform normally, although Delvoye has described the whole operation as "very medical, very antiseptic".[11] Delvoye also creates oversized laser-cut steel sculptures of objects typically found in construction (like a cement truck[12]), customized in seventeenth-century Flemish Baroque style. These structures juxtapose "medieval craftsmanship with Gothic filigree".[13] Delvoye brings together the heavy, brute force of contemporary machinery and the delicate craftsmanship associated with Gothic architecture.

In a 2013 show in New York City, Delvoye showed intricate laser-cut works combining architectural and figurative references with shapes such as a Möbius band or a Rorschach inkblot.[14]

Selected public collections[edit]

SMAK, Ghent, Belgium
Fondation Cartier, Paris, France
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
Guggenheim Museum, New York, USA
MUDAM, Luxembourg
MuHKA, Antwerp, Belgium
Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, USA
Musée du Louvre, Paris, France
Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
MONA, Tasmania
The Margulies Collection, Miami, USA
Salama Bint Hamdan al Nahyan Foundation, Abu Dhabi, UAE
Uffizi Gallery, Florence, Italy

Solo Exhibitions[edit]


  1. ^ "Guggenheim". Retrieved 10 December 2013.
  2. ^ Enright, Robert. "Vim & Vigour; An Interview with Wim Delvoye". Border Crossings 96 (2005): n. pag. Web. 4 Jun 2010.
  3. ^ a b c d e Amy, Michaël (20 January 2002). "The Body As Machine, Taken To Its Extreme". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
  4. ^ "Wim Delvoye (1965- ) – Aspecten van de Belgische kunst na '45". belgischekunst.be.
  5. ^ Criqui, Jean-Pierre . "Eater’s Digest". Artforum 1 Sep.2001 : 182 – 183 . Print.
  6. ^ Grimes, William (30 January 2002). "Down the Hatch". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
  7. ^ First Dibs.com, Retrieved 27 September 2016
  8. ^ "A "Subversive Disneyland" at the End of the World". Archived from the original on 12 January 2015.
  9. ^ a b Laster, Paul (30 September 2007). "Bringing Home the Bacon: Wim Delvoye". Sperone Westwater. ArtAsiaPacific. pp. 154–159. Archived from the original on 20 August 2013.
  10. ^ Harris, Gareth. "Artist Banks on Pigs and Artificial S**t". Art Newspaper 6 October 2005 : 1, 7 . Print.
  11. ^ Laster, Paul (17 October 2002). "XXX-ray vision". Sperone Westwater. Time Out New York. p. 22. Archived from the original on 22 November 2013.
  12. ^ "Cement Truck". Archived from the original on 11 February 2012.
  13. ^ "Home". publicartfund.org.
  14. ^ Cashdan, Marina (16 May 2013). "New Provocations From the Belgian Bad Boy Wim Delvoye". The New York Times. Retrieved 21 May 2013.
  15. ^ Michel Dewilde : Wim Delvoye at the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art ‘About continuous folding, connecting and twisting.’
  16. ^ "Wim Delvoye". English. Retrieved 28 March 2024.
  17. ^ "wim-delvoye | Museum Tinguely Basel". www.tinguely.ch. Retrieved 28 March 2024.

External links[edit]