‘The MeToo case has no bearing on the market value of art Jan Fabre’

At an auction of the fallen banker Jeroen Piqueur’s works of art and personal belongings, one item stands out: ‘The man who measures the clouds’ by the recently convicted artist Jan Fabre. ‘One must separate man and artist.’

The auction house Moyersoen and former Optima boss Jeroen Piqueur set the bar high for the sale, from Thursday in Aartselaar, of ‘The man who measures the clouds’. The price range for the famous statue of Jan Fabre from 1998 is between 300,000 and 400,000 euros. The profits go to the many creditors in the Optima scandal, who together demand more than 70 million euros from the fallen banker.

The sale is a unique opportunity for Belgian collectors. 36 copies of ‘The Man Who Measures the Clouds’ were made. According to Guy Pieters, Fabre’s regular gallery owner since 1988, two thirds are abroad. Pieters plans to make an offer on his good friend’s work to his gallery, he says over the phone from the South of France. ‘I will definitely attend up to 300,000 euros. Bon, what am I saying here? I’m not going to waste my gunpowder in the newspaper. ‘

Fabre was last month sentenced to 18 months in prison for sexually abusive behavior and assault on a former employee of his dance company. This means that people are looking forward to the auction of the statue with extra excitement. Will the artist’s beliefs influence the bids? Pieters does not believe that. ‘You’re a journalist yourself: you also know how fast the news progressesThe MeToo case had no impact on Fabre’s market value as a visual artist in recent years, he claims. The gallery owner from Knokke has noticed this in recent years in the interest in the pictures of the 63-year-old ‘beauty warrior’. It fell neither in Belgium nor abroad, Pieters says. ‘Fabre continued to exhibit at museums, and interested buyers also continued to contact us. Art and theater are two separate worlds. ‘

I will definitely attend up to 300,000 euros.

According to Pieters, the best proof that Fabre has not been fired by collectors or museums is the auction last February at De Vuyst over an early version of ‘The Man Who Measures Clouds’. It came from the collection of Brussels Airport. Museum Voorlinden in Wassenaar bought the statue for a record amount of 595,000 euros. It is now in the garden.

Two months later, however, another version of the statue was not sold at auction at Campo & Campo. The price range at the time was in line with the image that goes under the hammer at Moyersoen. “But it was not an original work from the first series,” says Guy Campo of the auction house. Piqueurs version er. “Still, the estimate remains on the high side,” he says. A few months ago, another early version of ‘The Man Who Measures the Clouds’ was sold in our country for 260,000 euros. “It seems to me to be the maximum price,” Campo says. “All art auctions are unpredictable. That’s a big part of the charm of our profession.”

The impossible

Faber’s most coveted work of art was originally a plaster statuette. The original 1984 version would no longer exist. In 1998, Fabre executed the artwork in polished bronze. Eight numbered copies, three meters high, were cast, in addition to some artist proofreading for the artist. Two more series followed in 2007 and 2018, the last six meters large. The artwork shows a man reaching for the clouds from a stepladder with outstretched arms and a ruler. Because Fabre likes to practice self-idolatry in his plastic work, it is assumed that it is a self-portrait. Although he made imprints of his own body for some parts, the work is primarily a tribute to his deceased brother.

The inspiration for ‘The Man Who Measures the Clouds’ came from the movie ‘The Birdman of Alcatraz’ (1962). In it, a man convicted of double murder in prison develops a fascination with birds. After his release, he answers in the film what he wants to do ‘outside’: ‘measure the clouds’. That picture really appealed to Fabre. To measure the clouds is to reach out for the impossible, and that is, in his view, what artists as well as scientists or other thinkers or intellectuals should do.

The work has as many interpretations as there are spectators, but for me it represents the immense possibilities of art.

Philippe Van Cauteren

TASTE director

This is also why the owners love the work so much and like to show off with it. Guy Pieters, whose copy from his personal art collection is in the Linda & Guy Pieters Foundation’s sculpture park in Saint-Tropez, praises the utopian idea behind the artwork. ‘It’s actually a very romantic image. Everyone strives from time to time for an unattainable goal. The artist does this by reaching for the clouds, on the highest step of a ladder, as if he could fall off at any moment and would say, ‘Never give up and always go for the highest.’

Campo has one of eight statues from the original series in its private collection. “Bought it four or five years ago for the hype,” he says. His cloud man is in the yard of the auction house. “Everyone can see him there. As a spectator at the top of a building, you lose a bit of contact with it.”

One of the most famous versions in our country has been on the roof of the Ghent Museum SMAK for more than 20 years. ‘The work has as many interpretations as there are spectators, but for me it represents the immense possibilities of art’, says director Philippe Van Cauteren.

The essence

  • For the first time since his conviction in late April for violence, bullying and sexual harassment in the workplace and indecent assault, a work of art by Jan Fabre has been put up for auction.
  • ‘The Man We Measure Clouds’ (1998) is Fabre’s most coveted work of art. There are 36 versions of it.
  • It will be auctioned from the collection of former Optima CEO Jeroen Piqueur.

He is tired of being indicted as ‘The Man Who Measures the Clouds’. Especially if the questions are about the iconoclasm: should Fabre’s works of art disappear from sight? ‘My attitude towards it has not changed. The debate is irrelevant. We continue to oppose the removal of images because that is how the public debate is dampened. The work is on our roof and will stay there. (suk) It is disturbing how the press is overly aware of one work, while there are so many good exhibitions to write about. ‘

We never get questions about it from students or visitors.

Alex Mottrie

Orsi Academy, a training center for innovative surgeon training

The bronze sculpture also stood pontifically on the roof of the deSingel art center for years, until the new management removed it last year under the impetus of the MeToo case. Another version was exhibited for almost ten years in the public garden of De Melkerij in Brasschaat. 18 months ago, that statue was sold to a Belgian collector. ‘It was for private reasons. The Fabre figure had nothing to do with it, “says one involved in the sale.


Anyone who regularly travels on the E40 from the coast to Brussels has certainly already seen ‘The Man Who Measures the Clouds’ on the terrace of the Orsi Academy, a training center for innovative surgeon training, in Melle. This is a loan from Pieters Gallery from the third edition of 2018.

The statue has stood there since last year and Alex Mottrie continues to defend his central position. ‘You have to separate the person from the artist, everyone in our staff agrees. We never get questions about it from students or visitors. The image fits perfectly with our philosophy. We strive for better medicines that are safer for patients. We offer training facilities for robot-assisted surgery, laparoscopy, keyhole surgery … These are complex things. Sometimes we seem to strive for the impossible. We are all men – and women (laughs) – which measures the clouds. ‘

The online auction at Auctim starts on June 2 and ends on June 19

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