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Bert Theis, From "Fight Specific Isola to Isola Utopia", 2015. Collection Mariette Schiltz
Bert Theis

Building Philosophy – Cultivating Utopia

Building Philosophy – Cultivating Utopia is the first retrospective exhibition dedicated to the work of Luxembourg-born artist Bert Theis (1952-2016). Bert Theis’s oeuvre can be seen as an continued attempt to create situations that allow the viewer to feel and reflect on their presence and place in the world that surrounds them. His creations, which he readily described as “philosophical”, always relate to the context in which they appear and are faithful to his political, social and artistic engagement. Aesthetically-refined, they encourage both dialogue and introspection. For Theis, art was an emancipatory tool, humour a weapon of thinking, and the artist a responsible and critical social being.

Opposed to the “iconographic pollution” of the so-called “society of the spectacle” – a notion forged in the 1960s as a critique of consumerist society and mass media –, he abandoned pictorial practice very early on and, from the mid-1990s, created “platforms” and “pavilions” which, in both a real and a figurative sense, showcase and elevate the individuals who use them. At the 1995 Venice Biennale for example, he exhibited Potemkin Lock, an entirely white pavilion that encouraged visitors to take time out to relax and contemplate. In 1997, for Skulptur Projekte in Münster, he created Philosophical Platform, a place for discussion and sharing that met with unprecedented popular success. As time went on, he continued to refine the principles and explore the potential of these two works.

His interest in historical, social and urban issues led to a number of commissions for the public realm, notably Warburg Spirale. Un monument aux vivants in Strasbourg, unveiled in 2002, and the installation 2551913, created in 2013 for the Parc de la Butte-du-Chapeau-Rouge in Paris. In 2001, in the working-class district of Isola in Milan, where he had lived since 1993, he also launched the Isola Art Center, a collective platform of artists, architects, philosophers and citizens and the springboard from which he endeavored, by means of art, to establish a “concrete utopia”. Over the course of fifteen years, numerous exhibitions, pieces of performance art, presentations, and a range of other events became a collective fight to preserve social ties and combat property speculation in the district. Since his death in October 2016, citizens, workers, intellectuals and a young generation of artists have continued to uphold his ideals at the Isola Pepe Verde community garden and the self-managed RiMaflow factory.

Building Philosophy – Cultivating Utopia showcases the oeuvre of an artist who, through the quality of his work, the relevance of his ideas and his artistic and human generosity, has had a lasting influence on many of his peers. Through models, documentation, preparatory drawings, photographs and videos, the exhibition offers a broad overview of the projects in public space that made him known. It also sheds some light on less familiar aspects of his work, such as his collages, the pieces that question history of art, society and the status of images, his performance art and his text works.

The exhibition is accompanied by a new monograph edited by Mudam in collaboration with Mousse Publishing.

Biographical note

Bert Theis (1952-2016) lived and worked in Luxembourg and Milan. His work has been presented at some of the most important contemporary art events, including the 46th Venice Biennial (1995), the Skulptur Projekte in Münster (1997), the 4th Gwangju Biennial (2002) and the 10th Istanbul Biennial (2007). Following commissions and calls for projects, he also designed a number of permanent installations for the public space, including Warburg Spirale. Un monument aux vivants in Strasbourg (2002), the European Pentagon, Safe & Sorry Pavilion in Brussels (2005) then in Luxembourg (2007), Le Troisième Système in the grounds of the estate around Chamarande Castle, and 2551913 at the Butte-du-Chapeau Rouge park in Paris (2013). His work has been shown at many personal exhibitions, notably at the PAV – Parco Arte Vivente in Turin (2015), at the Centro Pecci in Prato (2009), at Mamco, Geneva (2007), at the Federico Bianchi Contemporary Art Gallery in Lecco (2008) and in Milan (2011) as well as at the Erna Hecey Gallery in Luxembourg (1999, 2003) and in Brussels (2008). Mudam’s 2019 exhibition Building Philosophy – Cultivating Utopia is the first retrospective dedicated to his work.


Christophe Gallois (Commissaire / Mudam) à propos de la rétrospective de Bert Theis au Mudam


  • Enrico Lunghi, in collaboration with Christophe Gallois, assisted by Marion Vergin

With the support of:
  • Oeuvre National de Secours Grande-Duchesse Charlotte

Media partners:
  • Luxembourg Times

Arcipelago Bert Theis

The exhibition has been extended to include Arcipelago Bert Theis, a range of projects and artworks presented across Luxembourg and beyond, in collaboration with: 2001 architecture, Cercle Cité, Communauté Urbaine de Strasbourg, Fonds Belval, Fonds Kirchberg, LUCA Luxembourg Center for Architecture, Musée national d’histoire et d’art Luxembourg, Rotondes, Université du Luxembourg – Master in Architecture, Ville de Luxembourg.

Bert Theis in Mudam Collection