Aguirre y Otegui in Museum Plantin-Moretus: ‘The more you travel, the harder reality is’

Philip Aguirre y Otegui invites visitors to travel with him in his exhibition ‘L’invitation au voyage’ at the Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp. The exhibition mainly shows graphic work, an underexposed part of his oeuvre.

An exploded photo of Philip Aguirre y Otegui’s studio (1961) forms a symbolic threshold between the baroque interior of the Museum Plantin-Moretus and the contemporary temporary exhibition. The first room is an introduction to both the exhibition and the artist’s oeuvre. The explanation is limited, the works must speak for themselves. Graphics, drawings and small sculptures reveal the common threads: migration, the utopia of travel, water and architecture.

The essence

  • ‘L’invitation au voyage’ is an exhibition by Philip Aguirre y Otegui at the Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp.
  • It shows the artist’s graphic work, supplemented by drawings and small sculptures. The central themes are migration, the travel utopia, water and architecture.
  • Aguirre y Otegui donated his graphic oeuvre to the museum, which specializes in printing.

The title of the exhibition can be found on the very first portfolio of graphic work he published in 1989. ‘L’invitation au voyage’ is taken from a poem by Baudelaire. ‘The French poet invites us to the land of pleasure’, says Aguirre. ‘It is a place where there is only luxury, tranquility and abundance. It is of course impossible, and the meaning is becoming more and more burdensome to me. The more you travel the world, the harder reality becomes.’

His work contains many utopias, often with a committed message: an etching in which a large scale collects all the world’s excess rain and lets it flow back to earth via pipelines, or a painting in which the Venetian Rialto Bridge connects the African and European continents. connects.

Aguirre travels a lot and has a special bond with Africa. A key work in his oeuvre is his ‘Théâtre Source’, a water source in Douala, Cameroon, which he transformed into an amphitheater and meeting place with the local community.


In his imagery, Aguirre is indebted to modern artists such as Brâncuși and Giacometti. His stylistic choice for simple lines is not optional. ‘I think for a long time about how I can best visualize something. It is important to portray human figures in a universal, understandable way, without being too simplistic or pathetic.’

As an artist, you naturally hope that your work is good and will be preserved forever, but you never know for sure.

Philip Aguirre and Otegui


The themes he deals with are not always cheerful, but there is also room for colour, lightness and humour. “It’s good to get something more light-hearted to creep in, and often unconsciously certain associations, which later take on a greater meaning. All my work starts with joy: the enjoyment of fabric, lines and colors.’

The Museum Plantin-Moretus has a special place in Aguirre’s heart. As a young man he came often. ‘Recently going through my oeuvre for the exhibition, it became clear to me how much I have learned from this museum: typography, layout, cartography… It has all influenced me.’

Aguirre y Otegui donated his graphic oeuvre to the Plantin-Moretus Museum.
©katrijn van giel

In 1576, Christoffel Plantin moved his printing house to the palace on the Vrijdagmarkt. Edward Moretus, a descendant of Plantin’s son-in-law, sold it to the city of Antwerp in the 19th century, and the museum now houses an impressive collection of prints and prints.

Aguirre decided to donate his graphic oeuvre to the museum. ‘As an artist, you naturally hope that your work is good and will be preserved forever, but you never know for sure. What I find much more important is that my work becomes publicly available through this collection.’ There are a total of eighty etchings and woodcuts covering a period from 1989 to the present day.

First push

Despite his travels, Aguirre remains firmly rooted in Antwerp. This is evidenced by a number of public works, such as in the yard of De Grote Robijn from the 16th century and the Harbor House. This spring, the large sculpture of a fishing boat that he made for the Beaufort Art Triennial in 2009 will be placed on the terrace of the new ZNA Cadix hospital. And there is his participation in the art manifestation ‘Finis Terrae’, where he shows the installation ‘Exodus’, which consists of slippers he found on Senegalese beaches.

Developments in Antwerp’s cultural sector, such as the collective departure of the city’s poets and the complete cancellation of project grants, cause concern for Aguirre y Otegui. ‘Poets and artists are champions of our culture. If you want to support it, invest in it. If you are against criticism, culture and the public space, it smells of advice. Councilor Nabilla Ait Daoud’s statement that real artists don’t let a lack of funding stop them is simply not true. Naturally, culture needs subsidies, just as political parties are supported. As an artist, the first push through project support can be crucial to growing.’

‘L’invitation au voyage’ by Philip Aguirre y Otegui runs until January 29 at the Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp.

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