1940 - 2019

Died in Michelbeke (BE), born in Antwerpen (BE).

The Belgian artist Panamarenko (pseudonym of Henri Van Herwegen) studied at the Academy of Fine Arts in Antwerp from 1955 to 1960 but just as often spent time in the City Library on Conscienceplein, where he sought out scientific and technical knowledge. His oeuvre consists of flying crafts, cars, submarines, Zeppelins and prehistoric walking chickens. As a versatile artist he is described as an inventor, mathematician, poet and visionary.

Panamarenko's father was an electrical engineer at the port of Antwerp and his grandfather was an architect. So he became familiar with technology and spatial constructions from an early age. After his studies he started exhibiting his first 'coincidental works' in 1963 ‘Koperen plaatjes met kogelgaten’ (Copper plates with bullet holes). In the mid-1960s he helped organise public happenings in the city centre and published the pamphleteer magazine Happening News. After repeated clashes with the police due to disturbing the peace, he found artistic refuge in Antwerp's Wide White Space Gallery, led by Anny De Decker. In this way he came into contact with artists such as Joseph Beuys, Bernd Lohaus, Marcel Broodthaers and Richard Long. Anny De Decker, then also a journalist at the Gazet Van Antwerpen, sent out the inventive explanation that the name Panamarenko is a contraction of Pan American Airlines & C°. In reality, the artist chose the pseudonym after hearing the Russian name Panteleimon Ponomarenko on a GDR channel.

Panamarenko regularly appeared in public with fellow artists such as Hugo Heyrman, Yoshio Nakajima and Wout Vercammen. Panamarenko wore either a white suit or a military uniform with a kepi. The publications of Happening News documented the happenings that they organised together as Vrije Actie Groep Antwerpen (V.A.G.A.) between 1965 and 1966. In the years that followed, Panamarenko started building two of his most remarkable machines: the flying bicycle Das Flugzeug (1968) and the impressive Zeppelin The Aeromodeller (1971). He later devised mechanisms for the movement of insect wings, even before scientists did, and designed a convincing concept for piloted spaceships that harnessed the magnetic forces in the cosmos. In 1996 he started welding his awe-inspiring submarine Pahama Novaya Zembaya with the conviction that he could sail to the North Pole in it. Meanwhile, he was tinkering with walking robots, flying cockchafers and various backpack helicopters that could take off vertically. 

Ultimately, it's virtually impossible to place Panamarenko's work in a specific style or movement because his oeuvre is so unique, extensive and innovative. Panamarenko has always explored new avenues when it comes to drawings, writings or graphic calculations. He shows things that are not completely visible, using humour, imagination and fantasy. The combination of artistic insight and technological experimentation ensures that his spectacular constructions radiate a kind of strange beauty, both in a playful and impressive way.

“I'm not a scientist nor someone who makes art objects. The most important thing for me is that every now and then there's a kind of poetry hidden in what I make.”

In 2005 he announced the end of his artistic career. The fax to his gallerists and employees was as brief as it was unexpected: 

“It's 2005 and I'm 65. I'm stopping with all my activities. Best regards, Panamarenko.”

In 2007 the artist donated his former home with studio and complete artistic furnishings to M HKA, which is responsible for the restoration and original redesign of the building, with the support of the non-profit organisation Panamarenko Collectief of archivist Paul Morrens, architect Luc Deleu and author Hans Willemse. The result is the authentic reconstruction of an eccentric biotope. The artist's house can be visited by appointment via M HKA.


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