If Jean-Michel Folon were still alive, he would have been gratified to see his sculptures nestled among the remains of Villers Abbey in the Walloon town of Villers-la-Ville.
The Belgian sculptor always had a fascination for the subtle yet powerful relationship between sculpture and architecture, two diverse disciplines that share a three-dimensional form in common.
Folon’s sculptures were designed to live outdoors. Exposing his works to the beauty of architectural sites and watching how they converse with their environment was a tradition Folon kept throughout his life.
The perfect setting for a poetic journey
The Villers Abbey provides the ideal setting for the poetic journey that unfolds as you encounter the creations of Folon. With eight centuries and 36 hectares of illustrious history, the former Cistercian monastery invites curiosity and contemplation, much like Folon’s art.
Against an elaborate and mesmerising background, the sculptures of Folon come off as endearing for their humble and modest appearance. Instead of getting drowned out, they seem to speak even louder.
Folon often reduced his subject to its simplest form. He limited the use of symbols to what was essential and universal. It had to be that way because Folon’s sculptures weren’t intended to dominate or intimidate. They were meant to harmonise with their surroundings and spark a connection with the spectator.
The main character in Folon’s work is a man wearing a plain suit and bearing minimal features. Simple yet mysterious, sometimes playful but always thought-provoking. He represents somebody, nobody, and everybody at the same time. And although he is a work of art, this figure is really just another visitor contemplating the world around him. Like you.
The exhibit at Villers Abbey features 22 of more than 400 sculptures by Folon. One section of the abbey takes you down the Allée des Pensées or Alley of Thoughts, a sculptural ensemble of eight works depicting Folon’s main character. Each statue has a different object for a head, provoking a dialogue with the viewer.
Who are they and what’s their story? Are they one and the same character captured in different moments of reflection? Or different individuals with their own interpretation of one and the same subject? That’s between you and Mr. Folon.
Jean-Michel Folon began devoting himself to sculpture in 1993 following a long and established career as a watercolor painter, illustrator, and printmaker. His sculptures have travelled all over Belgium and to other parts of the world, from Europe to America and all the way to Asia.
In 2003, Folon was named ambassador to UNICEF and awarded the Legion of Honor, the highest French order of merit. He established the Folon Foundation located in the farm of Château de la Hulpe in Solvay Park.
The Folon Expo at Villers Abbey marks the 20th anniversary of the Folon Foundation. The event opened last October and ends on March 21. If you miss it, you can always visit the works of Folon at Château de La Hulpe. From March 27 to November 7, the Folon Foundation will hold an exhibit featuring the posters designed by the versatile Belgian artist.