Skip to navigation Skip to main content
Tickets (Opens in a new tab)
All magazines

In Conversation with Fashion Photographer Willy Vanderperre

Exhibition view WILLY VANDERPERRE prints, films, a rave and more...
WILLY VANDERPERRE prints, films, a rave and more..., 2024
Willy Vanderperre

For the first time, MoMu has invited a fashion photographer to curate an exhibition about his own work. That honour fell to Belgian fashion photographer Willy Vanderperre. He seized the opportunity to disrupt the classic exhibition model, as well as putting together an affiliated programme. Here, he tells us what can be seen and experienced over the next three months.

  • Chris, Man About Town, #9, 2011, model: Chris Beek
    Willy Vanderperre
  • Daan, Dust, #13, 2018, model: Daan Duez
    Willy Vanderperre
  • Rejoice, Dust, #24, 2024, model: Rejoice Chuol
    Willy Vanderperre
  • Luca, Luca/12, #11, 2017
    Willy Vanderperre
  • Chloé, Robbie, i-D Magazine, #206, 2001, models: Chloé Winkel, Robbie Snelders
    Willy Vanderperre

Despite the richness of his past, Willy Vanderperre prefers to look ahead. "I am anything but nostalgic. On the contrary, I have the feeling that I still have a lot to say. This overview of my work to date gave me an opportunity to learn to love the past more. As long as the exhibition is running, I have a good excuse to be unabashedly nostalgic."

"Still, it was a bit terrifying at first. As I was going through my archives, it sometimes felt like I was mummifying myself. The deeper I delved into my past, the greater that feeling became. Fortunately, the MoMu team was open to deviating from the standard exhibition format. So, instead of following a chronological timeline, we worked with consistent thematic threads."

Can you tell us more?

"On the basis of a number of key works, we created a dialogue between older and more recent photographs. Above all, I want to invite visitors into my world. Those who are familiar with my work may recognize a consistent line. The campaign images for Raf Simons are a common thread that has continued to evolve. It started with the first campaign for his own brand and follows the path we have taken together ever since. When I look back on my career, he is a constant. We were together at Jil Sander, Christian Dior, Calvin Klein and Prada. Being able to work with a creative director for 25 years is unique in the fashion world. By the way, all of these campaigns were made together with my husband, stylist and consultant Olivier Rizzo. As far as the editorials are concerned, I also resolutely selected photographs in which he collaborated."

Does that mean the exhibition is an overview of your collaboration?

"Absolutely. It was an intentional choice to celebrate our work together. Without Olivier, a great deal would not even have been possible. I dedicate everything to him, because he is my pillar of strength. And, after all, MoMu is located in Antwerp, the city where I chose to live. I have shared that with him pretty much from the first day. So it makes perfect sense that the exhibition focuses on the images we made together."

Young people are the future, and I am more interested in them than in the past.

Willy Vanderperre

These works express a shared fascination for youth and subcultures. What attracts you to that?

"Young people are the future, and I am more interested in them than in the past. I try to live in the now as much as possible and enter into dialogue with what is going on in the world. In my sculptures as well, I am mainly concerned with the present and the future. So youthfulness will also always be the basis of everything I do."

How did you translate that fascination in your work as a guest curator?

"We keep the exhibition alive by creating a whole world around it, a world that is much bigger than just the photographs hanging in the museum galleries. For example, we have organized nocturnes with performances by Amenra and Wim Mertens, film screenings in De Cinema and a real rave. Each of these events also includes collectible items as one-time drops. We really want to immerse visitors in different emotions and stimulate them as much as possible."

  • Exhibition view WILLY VANDERPERRE prints, films, a rave and more...
    WILLY VANDERPERRE prints, films, a rave and more..., 2024
    Willy Vanderperre
  • Exhibition view WILLY VANDERPERRE prints, films, a rave and more...
    WILLY VANDERPERRE prints, films, a rave and more..., 2024
    Willy Vanderperre

This sounds like it has become anything but a traditional fashion exhibition.

"I am a Gen X’er after all, and that contradiction will always be there. Challenging people is what keeps me awake. This is also the first time MoMu has organized an exhibition around the work of a photographer. That alone makes the approach different. But isn’t it a wonderful idea that a museum links itself to a rave? MoMu already followed a very unorthodox trajectory without me. Look at the way they have pieces from their archives enter into dialogue with contemporary art and fashion. That curiosity is something we share."

Along with your own photographs, you are also showing work by other artists. How do these relate to each other?

"There is a sublime little work by Lucas Cranach the Elder. The tension and emotions it contains are unimaginable. These are elements that I also play with in my photographs. But I am just as happy with the T-shirt for Club 55 in Kuurne, where I first discovered Techno. On the back is the famous Jenny Holzer phrase, “Protect Me From What I Want”. For me, that T-shirt is just as important as the other work. Because there are memories attached to it, it takes on twice the value. This is also the case with the work of Jordan Wolfson. The gilded layer refers to relics in churches and takes me back to my Catholic background. It also features a snapshot of Wolfson as a teenager. So it contains all my working points. There is also work by Ashley Bickerton and by Mike Kelley, my favourite artist of all time. But perhaps the most important work is The Kiss, by Philippe Vandenberg. It was made in 1989, the year Olivier and I kissed for the first time. Vandenberg plays on his obsession with the club scene in Berlin and films by Rainer Werner Fassbinder, whom I was very enthusiastic about at the time. When I look at it and recognize the house with the cross, I am back in West Flanders and the clubs of my youth. And when I read the title and the date, I am moved."

Perhaps the most important work is The Kiss, by Philippe Vandenberg. It was made in 1989, the year Olivier and I kissed for the first time

Willy Vanderperre
  • Buttons Willy Vanderperre
  • Face towel Willy Vanderperre
  • Stickers Willy Vanderperre
  • T-shirt Willy Vanderperre
  • Antique napkin Willy Vanderperre
  • Patches Willy Vanderperre

Collectible items

Consistent with his obsession with youth and subcultures, Willy Vanderperre has launched a limited series of collectible items that are for sale near the entrance to the exhibition. "A bit like the merch stand at concerts and festivals", says Vanderperre. "Strangely enough, that is usually the first thing you come across at these events. In this case, the series announces what you will be seeing in the exhibition."

"For every event we will organize in the museum and beyond, I created different items that will be included in the exhibition. They depict images that are not framed, every single one a collectible item: limited edition pieces, varying from stickers, patches, badges, towels and more. The tote bag is a recurring item that will evolve over the show period."

Proceeds from sales will in part be donated to çavaria, Flemish advocates for LGBTI+ people.

By way of these collectibles, we want to make people aware of the problems faced by the LGBTI+ community. If I can use my voice to create more equality, I am delighted to do so.

Willy Vanderperre
  • Group portrait of Belgian metal band Amenra
    Stefaan Temmerman
  • Portrait of composer Wim Mertens playing the piano
    Wim Mertens

Concerts and soundscapes

For the musical nocturnes, Willy Vanderperre has invited artists of stature, including the men of Amenra and piano virtuoso Wim Mertens. They will be giving concerts in the stairwell. In the weekends following their performances, their music will be heard in the exhibition galleries.

Vanderperre is also curious about the effect these soundscapes will have on his own work. "Music influences how you look at images. You will experience the photographs differently with Amenra’s doom sludge in the background than with Mertens’ classic minimalism. But I am sure that both immersions will evoke emotions in a poetic way."

WILLY VANDERPERRE prints, films, a rave and more... is on view through 4 August 2024. More info and tickets available here