Iconoclasm is a genuine recognition of the power of the work of art. Nigel Halliday


Kim En Joong - VM - Koenraad De Wolf

Kim En Joong: Windows and Interior Design of the Chapel of the Dominican Monastery in Louvain-La-Neuve in Belgium
The Contemplative Power of White
by Koenraad De Wolf
Our chaotic times have a large need for contemporary beacons that reach back to primordial times. The new chapel of the new Dominican monastery (2010) in the university town of Louvain-La-Neuve in Belgium meets this need in a powerful way. A true win-win situation is brought about when an artist is recruited who through subtle but strong ideas knows how to construct a design that creates an atmosphere of rest, silence and reflection. Such an artist was found in the Korean Dominican, Kim En Joong, who lives in Paris.
The new monastery in Louvain-La-Neuve was named after Fra Angelico, the famous 15th-century painter and Dominican friar from Florence, Italy. Agda, the firm of the Wallonian architects Benoît Gillon and Géry Despret, designed the chapel in the form of a monumental egg. This primordial symbol of fertility points in Christian iconography to Easter and the resurrection of Christ. This partly opened, partly closed wooden egg was integrated in a harmonious way into the monastery. The result is a pearl of contemporary religious architecture which is almost without equal in Belgium. By being lit at night the chapel forms a striking beacon of light in the city. ‘Through our preaching, research and pastoral counseling we figuratively and literally want to be a beacon to the university community,’ says Prior Stéphane Braun.
When one enters the building, one steps into a beautiful contemporary space. Kim En Joong carefully planned the design of the interior. Behind the altar he created the four lyrical-abstract windows, featuring in succession the colours green, red, blue and yellow. Even though they consist of shreds of bright colours and have a dynamic appearance, an atmosphere of rest and contemplation dominates. The artist achieves this effect by a well thought out and restrained structure, the rich layering of the glass, the subtle way he plays with colour combinations, and the abundant provision of white in which - as an echo of the silence - openness and receptiveness for mystery can grow.
These exceptionally meditative windows are pervaded with a spiritual sensitivity while they capture what inwardly moved the artist. ‘Not the cloak and the hood make the monk, but the content of his soul and his inner belief,’ says Kim En Joong. ‘I want the viewer to experience the invisible. I don’t know if I succeed in giving a glimpse of the face of God, as everyone must try to give meaning to the windows themselves.’ These four windows can be interpreted in multiple ways, referring to the four evangelists as well as to the four seasons.
Kim En Joong also designed the altar cross and the liturgical robes and vessels. The transparent cross radiates light, while the red refers to the suffering of Jesus.
The chapel seats 30-40 persons and by opening up a wall the entrance hall can add more space. The hall is decorated with a large painting and a window by Kim En Joong. ‘We tried to make a homogenous whole of the chapel and entrance hall,’ says Prior Braun.
The meditative windows bathe the egg-shaped chapel in colour, light and movement. Therefore it comes as no surprise that in the recent Michelin Guide this rare Belgian example of contemporary religious architecture is adorned with the label ‘vaut le detour’ – worth a detour!
Foto’s: Copyright KIK-IRPA
The South-Korean Kim En Joong (b. 1940) grew up in a society shaped by Confusianism and Buddhism. From 1959-1963 he studied at the Art Academy of Seoul and proceeded to specialize in art education. Kim came into contact with Catholicism when giving drawing lessons at the Catholic Seminary in Seoul. After becoming a Christian he moved to Fribourg in Switzerland in1969 to study theology. A year later Kim entered the Dominican order. In 1974 he became a priest and since 1975 he has lived and worked in a Dominican monastery in Paris, France. Kim’s reputation as an artist has grown over the years. He has shown his work in churches, monasteries and also in the cathedrals of San Francisco (2002), Paris (2003), Chartres, Amiens, Metz and Évry (2005). The artist also has had retrospective shows in museums in France and Korea. He created windows for a church in Angoulême (1989) as well as for the cathedrals of Évry and Chartres (2006). Other windows can be found in the St. JosephChurch in Paris (2005), the monastery of Ganagobie, and the churches of Thorigné and Craintilleux (France).
More info about the most striking examples of contemporary religious art in Belgium in the period of 2000-2010 can be found on website in the section ‘A New Spring for Religious Art.’ In 2011 Koenraad De Wolf published a book on the same subject with the same title in Dutch (Nieuwe lente voor religieuze kunst).
For more about Koenraad De Wolf, see
ArtWay Visual Meditation February 12, 2012