The artist David Hockney this week made the record books with the sale of one of his works for the highest price ever paid for a living artist. Flemish artist Koen Vanmechelen’s work ComingWorldRememberMe (CWRM), however, is currently the most popular in Belgium – and he’s giving it away. The work is intended as a memorial to the First World One in this centenary year, and opened in March in the provincial domain De Palingbeek in Zillebeke near Ieper, the front line of the war. It is composed of 600,000 hand-made figures made of a mixture of clay from Germany and from the Ieper area, each one made in a head-shaped form with the markings of a spinal column. Dominating the field full of figures, each one representing one of the Belgian dead of the war, is a massive clay egg from which the smaller forms flow.
The egg was made by Vanmechelen himself; for the smaller forms, he called on the talents of 180,000 volunteers in 150 workshops in different countries over the course of the four years 2014-2018. They used a total of 123,000kg of mixed clay, and each person decorated their form to their own design.
The volunteers who decorated the forms each paid five euros, for a booklet explaining the exhibit, a dog-tag attesting participation and the rest going towards charity. As of Thursday, the forms were made available to the public, free of charge, to come and pick them up.
That was good news for one pupil from West Flanders, 11-year-old Elin from Ostend,whose class had taken part in the project. From a selection of 600,000 possibilities, she managed to lay hands on the form she had decorated herself.
Less good news for the organisers, when it was first discovered that some visitors were leaving with bags stuffed with forms, and later when it was reported some were being sold online.
“Each form represents someone who died,” Vanmechelen told TV Limburg. “I think that for a trade to exist in people who have died is lacking all respect.”
Myriam Vanlerberghe, provincial deputy for West Flanders, said the province would investigate allegations of a trade in the forms. “If we find out there is, we will take action,” she promised. “Anyone who comes to take a form has to agree to certain conditions, so that they can under no circumstances be sold on. Not even within a charity action. We will take legal action against anyone who regardless offers these forms for sale.”