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Jan Fabre

Art Kept Me Out of Jail

160 pages
16.5 x 24 cm
Hardcover under jacket
Texts by Bernard Marcadé, Marcella Lista, Philippe Van Cauteren, Bart De Baere, Achille Bonito Oliva and Giacinto di Pietrantonio
100 photographs colors and black&white
37 drawings unpublished before (self-portraits)
+ 1 DVD
Language : French
Release : 2010
ISBN 978-2-916275-61-1

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On April 22nd 2008, the Belgian artist Jan Fabre slipped into the skin and the spirit of the famous gangster Jacques Mesrine (1936-1979), during a long performance among the ancient sculptures of the Louvre.

Themes of death, disguise and metamorphosis lead this nocturnal meditation during which the artist identifies with a new figure:  that of a gangster.

Even if Jan Fabre’s rebellion is only artistic, unlike Mesrine, who was declared ‘public enemy number one’, obvious similarities exist between the artist and the crook. Their provocative side, the flamboyant show off but also the chameleon aspect of their personnality (Jan Fabre is in turns performer, drawer, author, director, choreographer and occasionally all these at once).

The title of the performance, Art Kept Me Out of Jail, is connected to these parallels. Jan Fabre takes on the appearance of Mesrine. He disguises himself as Mesrine, himself in disguise. Like his character, he is ‘the man of a thousand faces’, switching features in a matter of moments.

This book offers a new narrative about the spectacular metamorphosis from the artist to the gangster. Built on photographs of the performance plus forty original unpublished drawings, the book is also completed by texts credited to Mesrine’s. This very visual story leads the reader through different universes, from news items to stressful museum stalking.

On the fabulous stage offered by the Louvre, we go in drags, we seduce, we fall and get up again right up until the final volley of bullets…. 

With essays by Bernard Marcadé (critic and curator), Marcella Lista (curator at the Louvre), Philippe Van Cauteren (director of SMAK, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Gand), Bart De Baere (director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Anvers), Achille Bonito Oliva (contemporary art critic), and Giancinto de Pietrantonio (director of the GAMEC, Bergamo).

The film of the performance on DVD accompanies the book.

A numbered special edition with photographs is also available.

Follow that link to access the limited edition's descriptive card  >  


Protean artist, Jan Fabre, born in Antwerp in 1958, is known for being one of the most avant-gardist artist of his time. For twenty–five years, he has achieved great success on the international scene as a performance artist, playwrighter, opera writer, choreographer, author and visual artist. Whichever genre he approaches, he systematically pushes the boundaries. This has earned him a reputation for controversy throughout his artistic journey.

His performances are unique, unrepeated shows, whose rhythm and atmosphere are dictated by the place and time. They are physical and conceptual experiences, interspersed with visual references and expressing a number of symbolic ranges. The artist slips into an unusual temporality, in a space shared with the public, stretching out the moment to the limits of its physical resistance.