worlds collide with walter van beirendonck and bernhard willhelm at art basel miami

The Belgian renegades tell us about The World of Mr. Somebody & Mr. Nobody

by Emily Manning
10 December 2014, 5:45pm

Art Basel Miami Beach draws artists, galleries, collectors, and party animals from all across the globe to sunny Southern Florida for five jam-packed days of non stop art. Antwerp was well represented with the opening of the Miami Design District's The World of Mr. Somebody & Mr. Nobody, a group installation featuring the bright, bold clothing of Belgium-borg designers Walter Van Beirendonck and Bernhard Willhelm.

Curated by Heidi Chisholm, Cathy Leff, and Sharon Lombard, The World of Mr Somebody & Mr. Nobody explores the language and culture of the curators' native South Africa through a hybrid of art, fashion, design, and global exchange. Seeking to break down the boundaries and represent both the bizarre and beautiful, the exhibition situates Van Beirendonck's and Willhelm's pieces within a larger context of works including photography by Miles Ladin; graphic works by South African performance-artist-turned-graphic designer Peet Pienaar; and clothing by Johannesburg-based Ella Buter.

Although Van Beirendonck was not directly involved in the actual installation's conceptual ideas, the designer was compelled to let his pieces support the exhibition's greater artistic vision: "I liked that Bernhard Willhelm, and some new artists are involved in this project, and I agreed to provide them with a small selection of my clothes. It is a kind of preview of the summer-collection WHAMBAM!" he said. As to his role, Willhelm agreed: "I'm only there to give the cloth a spirit."

While Van Beirendonck and Willhelm don't always see fashion as art, both designers recognise its potential to make strong statements and inspire change, just as pieces of art often do: "Fashion is not art, but certain fashion presentations, images, installations, shows, and statements can be as strong and important as art works. So in that sense, fashion can become art," said Van Beirendonck. For Willhelm, art and fashion share a subversive spirit: "Sometimes function follows form, sometimes you have to break a rule."

As for the artists they find inspiring, Van Beirendonck and Willhelm look to dramatically different aesthetics, but similarly adventurous spirits: "I've admired Paul McCarthy for a long time. He is brave and adventurous; I love his art and statements," said Van Beirendonck. "The but-plug Christmas tree incident recently in Paris was a big shame—it limits the expression of artists and the freedom to create!" Willhelm's interests lie in the vastly influential populism of the Dutch Golden Age: "Suddenly, art was for everyone!" the designer said, to which Van Beirendock agrees: "Art is the energy we need to conquer the world."


Text Emily Manning
Portrait Ronald Stoops
Images courtesy Mr. Somebody and Mr. Nobody

Art Basel
bernhard willhelm
the world of mr. somebody and mr. nobody
walter van bierendonck