We are proud to present at our gallery the second solo exhibition of visual artist Niels Donckers (b. 1969, Antwerp; lives and works in Belgium).
Niels Donckers is an acclaimed architectural photographer in Flanders. Donckers studied photography at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp and obtained a postgraduate degree at the Higher Institute of Fine Arts in 1995. Numerous architects, museums and the Flemish Government Architect then made use of his expertise as a photographer. But also as a visual artist, Donckers has been working on a special and coherent photographic oeuvre for the past twenty-five years.
In his early work, Donckers explored in-depth the characteristic architecture of urban and suburban Belgium. These were photographs of typical, often parochial architectural constructions, ranging from soulless new houses and flashy villas to modern ruins in deplorable housing estates or alongside desolate roads. He shows us the frayed edges of public space. What strikes us in these photographs is the absence of humans. The only reference to size and scale is the position of the photographer himself. The photographs are always very sharp, technically perfect images: particularly centralized compositions with which Donckers flawlessly captures the surroundings.
Donckers views his subject with a diagnostic eye. He captures things in a neutral and rational manner. He thus avoids having to take a stance himself, let alone that he expresses an opinion. Yet, the slow and patient way he proceeds—sometimes he returns up to five times to a specific place to make a photograph—gives away that the artist feels a certain empathy for his subject. Though on first glancing at them the photographs seem merely photographical, on looking more attentively they reveal a deliberately layered identity. Donckers has a keen eye for spatial ambiguity and injects his photographs with a sort of subdued tension. The space the artist captures stays inherently empty and requires the thoughts and ideas of both the maker and the spectator to be complete. In an often perfect symmetry, Donckers’s work transcends everyday pictorialness, thus eluding the tyranny of a superficial, predictable and mediocre visual culture.
Of late, a certain change is noticeable in his choice and approach of images. A sort of softening has unmistakably stolen its way into his recent photographs and we also notice a narrative, poetical overtone. Donckers now takes us, sometimes literally, from the exterior towards the interior. There is still a focus on a clear and technically perfect record, but there is also a sense of humour that puts things into perspective as he zooms in on interiors and architectural details. He is also more flexible in the presentation of his work and he explores more possibilities. By using different formats and materials, he adds a subtle new layer to his work and our perception of it.
In 2017, Koen Leemans curated the retrospective exhibition Niels Donckers: Selected Works 1992-2017 in De Garage in Mechelen. The first monograph of Niels Doncker’s works, published on the occasion of this exhibition, provides an overview of the artist’s impressive, powerful images and affirms the artistic relevance of his unique photographic oeuvre.
Koen Leemans, 2017