Wim Delvoye – Pigs

Wim Delvoye is no stranger to controversial artworks, and his tattooed pigs are no exception. When he started tattooing pigs in 1997, setting up a farm outside of Beijing to avoid any regulatory hassles, he was criticized in the art-world. There is a certain hypocrisy here in that it’s ok to factory farm pigs for food and consumer products in what are usually atrocious conditions, but it’s not ok to tattoo a young pig to sell its skin as a canvas at the end of its natural life. It’s just another form of consumption where the pig is exploited, this time for art.

The pig with a tattoo of Jesus reminds me of the work of Pawel Jaszczuk and his collecting tat that has the image of Jesus incorporated. In his own words, ‘The combination of religious symbols with objects of everyday use exposes the ridiculousness and absurdity of the material superstructure of the modern Christian rite.’

Wim Delvoye, Pigs, 1997

The Delvoye work I find really interesting is where sculptures of tattooed pigs are placed in the immediate vicinity of old masters or in the gallery space. Taking the Pigs out of their normal context and in today’s world that implies some sort of intensive farming and consumption, but the tattooing seems to intend another meaning. I have not yet found a text or interview by Delvoye, where he explains the intent of this particular juxtaposition. Saint Lievin had his tongue torn out to stop him preaching. Maybe the installation is a metaphor for the things not spoken about or the silencing of those that do speak out, or it’s just a coincidence and I read too much into it. I do like this arrangement though, leaving the interpretation open ended for the viewer.

In my work where I place masterpieces in factory pig farms or their immediate vicinity, the artwork is chosen specifically for its allegorical value, whether that is Christian iconography or ancient roman artefacts, a period known for its excess. Setting it up as if it were a gallery location adds to the absurdity and challenges the notion of what we consider an art gallery.

Wim Delvoye, installation of “Tabriz”, “Shahreza”, “Arak”, “Karaj”, “Khermanshah” and “Bidjar”, 2010-2016, in the showroom with “Le martyre de Saint Liévin” by Rubens at the background. Photo from: El Gran Otro, by Por Patricia Lago L. and Maximiliano Turri


KIEFFER, Michèle. 2016. ‘Wim Delvoye: Tattooing Pigs For The Art Of Provocation’. Culture Trip [online]. Available at: https://theculturetrip.com/europe/belgium/articles/wim-delvoye-tattooing-pigs-or-the-art-of-provocation/ [accessed 17 Apr 2021].

JASZCUL, Pawel. 2017. ‘¥€$U$’. [online]. Available at: https://www.paweljaszczuk.com/U [accessed 5 Nov 2020].

LASTER, Paul. 2019. ‘Art Is Useless: A Conversation With Wim Delvoye – Sculpture’. Sculpture [online]. Available at: https://sculpturemagazine.art/art-is-useless-a-conversation-with-wim-delvoye/ [accessed 17 Apr 2021].

‘Saint Livinus’. 2021. CatholicSaints.Info [online]. Available at: https://catholicsaints.info/saint-livinus/ [accessed 19 Apr 2021].

‘WIM DELVOYE: INSURRECTIONARY ART NOT SUITABLE FOR GENERAL AUDIENCES’. 2019. Art Madrid [online]. Available at: https://www.art-madrid.com/en/post/wim-delvoye-insurrectionary-art [accessed 17 Apr 2021].

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