Axel Vervoordt Gallery is proud to present Markus Brunetti's second solo show in Belgium: Romanesque FACADES. Fourteen photographic works will be exhibited at Kanaal, of which eleven are being shown in public for the first time. Romanesque FACADES is Brunetti’s first exhibition focusing on a particular kind of architecture.
For nearly fifteen years, Markus Brunetti (°Bavaria, 1965) and his partner Betty Schöner (°Dresden, 1970) have been travelling through Europe in a studio-converted truck. Guided by literature and other study material and by suggestions from local residents, Brunetti takes a Grand Tour of Europe in search of churches, cathedrals, monasteries, abbeys, and synagogues that reflect the architectural splendour of the continent. This ongoing and unending project leads the couple to a monastic and nomadic existence.
With a strong preference for bright and homogeneous light that provides little shade, Brunetti takes thousands of photographs of the buildings, which he then meticulously assembles in their truck, driven to a remote place in the desert or the mountains where the external distraction or the temptation to photograph new holy houses is minimal. Metre by metre, or call it stone by stone, Brunetti rebuilds the churches – a process that requires a great understanding, familiarity and even intimacy with the medieval structures. Compare it to the Iglesia de San Juan in Portomarín, which was rebuilt after the construction of a reservoir in the 1960's, stone by stone on a hillock, the sculpted porches remaining intact.
Brunetti eliminates the human interference in and around the facades, the result reminding us of what the buildings would have looked like for the craftsmen, masons, and bricklayers. Depending on weather conditions and ongoing restorations of the buildings, it can take months or even years to complete the process. A long time, but not as long as the time it took to build the churches, which often spanned several generations. The crafts involved in construction were often handed down from generation to generation – and here, too, the parallel can be drawn with Brunetti, who himself descends from three generations of architects, and with Schöner, who is a fourth-generation photographer.
Yet Brunetti's photographic works remain strongly influenced by the present – by the momentum or the current state in which the photos are made. The Lichfield Cathedral and the Sobrado Abbey, for example, show overgrown facades or plants that make the building their own. However, the photographic works of these buildings are not included in this exhibition: no gothic pointed arches or baroque domes, no gargoyles or festoons, nothing that can be called rayonnant or flamboyant. This exhibition only presents the austerity of Romanesque architecture, built between the early ninth century (as in Naranco) and the late thirteenth century (as in Poitiers or Brindisi).
Although all these buildings belong to the same pan-European style, the differences are large. The geometric façade with zigzag, chessboard and herringbone patterns of the Santa Maria del Casale in Brindisi, the title image of this exhibition, is unique, created by the combination of local tuff and white stone. The choice of locally available materials creates typical decorations, such as the geometric patterns in marble on the San Miniato al Monte in Florence, the complex wood construction of which the Borgund stavkyrkje is composed or the “sandstone and marble in a vaulted work... a palace without wood, of admirable construction and vaulted below and above,” as was already written about the Santa María at Mount Naranco around 1015.
Studying details is like reading a good book, Brunetti noted. The analogy with the medieval master builders reappears here, who put details and sculptures in friezes, tympanums and under capitals to teach the churchgoers and pilgrims. In this way, the buildings are charged with a spiritual element that is inherently present in the sacred whole.
Whose work radiates a same spirituality, is the German (Düsseldorf) couple Bernd and Hilla Becher, who photographed buildings in a similar way, albeit in an analogous manner. With their own strictly imposed paradigms, they photographed the monuments of their time: water towers, ore mines, cranes, gas tanks. Can Brunetti's work be called conceptual? Unlike the Becher couple, Brunetti is guided by a personal view to combine different photographs to an own peculiar image or an Abbild, as it is called in German. The Bechers saw their work as if it were documentary or encyclopaedic, or natural historic like the work of Karl Blossfeldt. Brunetti's work also occupies a unique position in the context of contemporary photography. Unlike Thomas Struth or the recently deceased Michael Wolf, who devoted most of their oeuvre to architectural photography, Brunetti's buildings are not in the human stranglehold of the increasingly rapid changes in the economy. Perhaps the most ‘human’ in Brunetti's photographic works are the headstones to the left of the Norwegian Borgund Stave Church.
Brunetti’s churches have been stripped of disturbing factors: lanterns, traffic signs, electricity cables, pigeon pins. The buildings here are insulated in their stillness. Printed in large format on matte paper and without protective glass, the works invite to gathering and meditation, as the squares in front of the churches do. These squares, even apart from religion, emanate a special charisma – a calm and peaceful realm. Brunetti invites you to take a look at it yourself, to discover how far the diversity within the same style can reach. And, as he said, studying details is like reading a book. Take your time to read.