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Kris Martin | EXIT

S.M.A.K., the Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art, Ghent

March 7, 2020 – January 3, 2021

EXIT is the first retrospective dedicated to the work of conceptual artist Kris Martin to appear in his home country. Internationally recognized for a rigorous conceptual practice in which he addresses existential questions with subtlety and wit, Martin’s sculptures, drawings, photographs and installations reflect his ongoing preoccupation with matters of human existence and its contradictions. In his work Martin often makes use of the readymade; through subtle acts of displacement and with minimal intervention, he re-contextualizes familiar objects, infusing them with new meaning.


EXIT is S.M.A.K.’s contribution to “OMG! Van Eyck was here,” a year-long series of events honoring the legacy of the Flemish Master. The exhibition coincided with Van Eyck. An Optical Revolution, the largest Van Eyck exhibition ever mounted, which was on view at the Museum of Fine Arts, Ghent, from February 1 – April 30, 2020. Martin greatly admires the Van Eyck brothers and his own work shares their predilection towards rich symbolism. In radically different form but with a similar sensibility, Martin’s art explores the uncertainty of the human condition, the passing of time, and our relationship with ideas of faith. EXIT showcases Martin’s penchant for wittily re-contextualizing familiar objects with an almost naive simplicity to produce complex new meanings and reveals his flair for weaving art history, literature and myth into his work.

b. altar image

Altar, 2014

One of Martin’s most well-known works, Altar, 2014, which is permanently installed on the beach in Ostend, is in fact a replica of the frame of the multi-paneled, 15th century Ghent Altarpiece by Hubert and Jan Van Eyck, one of the world’s best known—and most frequently stolen—works of art, which is housed in Ghent’s St. Bavo’s Cathedral. As part of this exhibition, Altar is currently installed at the entrance to the Cathedral, its emptied armature offering the viewer the opportunity to reframe the reality of contemporary life through the lens of a 600-year-old artwork. 

“I have a special relationship with the cathedral and see the Ghent altarpiece at least once a week. I can’t get enough of it” 

b. funnel & idiot image

Funnel, 2005

22 carat solid gold



Idiot, 2005

ink on paper, 1494 pages


Like a monk, I copied The Idiot by F. Dostoevsky. In so doing, I replaced the name of the protagonist Myshkin with Martin and became the idiot myself.

"Gold is the material for a crown, the symbol of power. An inverted funnel symbolises idiocy. Power and idiocy are immortalised in a single image."



T.Y.F.F.S.H., 2009

hot air balloon, ventilators


The dream of flying and drifting with the wind is captured in the museum.


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Miserere, 2016, radio, plaster, electronic units, I Am Not an Idiot, 2010, found pebbles But Strange That I Was Not Told That the Brain Can Hold In a Tiny Ivory Cell God’s Heaven and Hell, 2005, safes

"I worked for months, like a monk. It was very consuming and at the same time liberating"

Mandi XV

Mandi XV, 2007

steel, bronze


This perfectly functional sword is too large for a man. Who is it for?

Still Alive

Still Alive, 2005

bronze, silver-plated


"I had my skull scanned, plotted, cast and silvered. It’s the first skull of living human being in art history."


Microscope, 2020

microscope with adapted lens




Microscope, like much of Martin’s work is a readymade that he has cunningly tampered with; instead of magnifying objects, it makes them smaller. “When looking at people from a distance, they become minuscule, like ants. It shows the relativity of our existence on earth.”


Water, 2020

found receptacles, water



Water. Ordinary and vital to life.

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Mr, 2007, mirror, Holy Grail, 2013, cup, lead, Spatium, 2009, 12 Lambda prints





"Everything is time and time is everything, but you cannot grasp what it is. Time is fluid; it constantly escapes."



Festum II, 2010



Confetti is perishable, but this bronze version is eternal. We are mortal.

100 years

100 Years, 2004

mixed media



This bomb will detonate in 2104. I’ll be long gone by then. I made it in 2004, as part of my battle against finiteness.

"The more you want to tell, the less you should reveal. If, for instance, I came into the bar here and called out, ‘please pay attention, my grandfather has just died,’ then people would think ‘poor guy’ and after a moment or two they’d go back to their talking. But if I came in and cried out ‘death!’ it would have a much stronger effect." 

Solitary & end point

"End-Point of”, 2017 series

collage, graphite on paper



The last full-stops from the holy books or scriptures of the world’s greatest religions were pasted onto a white page. Do they only have the final full-stop in common?









Solitary, 2019

marble, gold



When you wear this ring, you remain still, all alone.

“I see every piece as an invitation for the viewer to reflect, trying to activate one’s individual thoughts about one’s own life, without having any intention to force one’s thoughts to go in a certain direction.”

Wanderer II

Wanderer II, 2011

shoe, golden coin



I placed a gold coin in this shoe of a dead soldier, which he can use to pay Charon to ferry him across the Styx.


Bee, 2009




A golden cast of a dead bee as pars pro toto of a global disaster. If bees die out, then mankind is also doomed.

“Art should not be pushed into the margins of society. Don’t forget that art is the only thing that remains of every single ‘civilization’ in history.” 


Vase, 2005

Chinese porcelain, glue


"I broke a Chinese vase and stuck it back together. Breaking and pasting as a metaphor for life. The vase reads in Chinese: The market and the people who go to the market."


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Still Alive, 2011, ink on paper, 34 drawings, Mandi XLIV, 2017, railroad barriers painted black, moving randomly, Unter der Erde scheint die Sonne, 2014, Marble


eve & adam

Eve and Adam, 2017

photographs mounted between plexiglas, diptych


As with Altar, Martin’s Eve and Adam directly references the Ghent Altarpiece. Here, Martin photographed the figures of Adam and Eve, which populate the outermost panels on the altar. If the wings are closed, the two naked bodies are united in the heart of the altar, side by side, gazing at one another. In this work, Martin isolates only the faces of the figures and inverts their positions, gazes now turned away from one another.

Mandi Viii

Mandi VIII, 2006




Without the two snakes, Laocoön’s fear and that of his sons is inexplicable. The cause of their terror has disappeared but the emotion can still be read in their faces and body language.


"The evil thus becomes invisible, and I ask: what are these humans fighting against now? It’s up to the spectator to fill it in. It could be depression, the coronavirus, mortality, anything. Everyone will view it differently. I like to create that space for thought."

the end

The End, 2006

mixed media on mirror



We’re actors. Our reflections are our audience.