'Professor Peeh and de Voesjesmannen', characters by Rony Heirman and backgrounds by Jan Hoet.

Jan Hoet was a Belgian art curator, who gained a legendary status in his home country. In 1975, he established the Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst ("Museum for Contemporary Art") in Ghent, since 1999 renamed to Stedelijk Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst ("City Museum for Contemporary Art"), often abbreviated as S.M.A.K. He organized highly mediatized exhibitions, earning him international acclaim. Hoet's fame outgrew the art niche and made him recognizable to general audiences too. His enthusiasm and talent for promotion made him both a beloved and contested figure. Lesser known is that in the late 1960s until the mid-1970s, Hoet collaborated with photographer Rony Heirman on several comics under the joint pseudonym Heirhoe. They appeared in local comic magazines and the children's publications Zonnekind and Zonneland. One story, 'Professor Peeh en de Voesjesmannen' (1969), was published in book format by Oogachtend in 2005. Hoet also curated two exhibitions about comics, namely 'Art and Graphic Innovation in European Comics' (1987) and 'De Wereld van de Strips in Originelen' ('The World of Comics in Originals', 2013).

Early life
Jan Hoet was born in 1936 in Leuven/Louvain as the son of a physician and a psychiatrist. His parents were art collectors and he inherited their passion. He studied at the Academy of Ghent, but attended so few lessons that he was expelled. He eventually graduated with a degree in plastic arts from the Rijksnormaalschool in Ghent, where Rony Heirman was a classmate. In 1961, Hoet became a high school teacher in Oostakker and three years later, he studied art history at the University of Ghent. In 1969, he founded the Kunstacademie Westhoek (Art Academy Westhoek), where he was a teacher until 1975. Hoet learned painting from Octave Landuyt, a personal friend of comic artist Marc Sleen. Although Hoet kept painting as a hobby throughout his life, he never considered himself a real artist. Interviewed in Humo (issue #3799, 7 July 2013), he explained that he merely imitated other painters, rather than create something new. To him, true art had to come from one's own personality, instead of others.

Comics
Between 1969 and 1975, Hoet and his friend Rony Heirman made four humor comics together. 'De Romeintjes', 'Wien en Kwek' and 'De Daverende Blauwe Peren' were written by Karel Verleyen and appeared in Zonneland and Zonnekind, both Catholic children's magazines published by Altoria in Averbode. The madcap fantasy story 'Professor Peeh and de Voesjesmannen' (1969) was serialized in De Ronselaar, based on a script by Erik Knaepen. Their art also appeared in De Vooruit. Hoet and Heirman drew everything together under the joint pseudonym Heirhoe, a contamination of their last names. Because of his academic experience in drawing from life, Hoet took care of the backgrounds, while Heirman concentrated on the characters. It led to an odd stylistic clash, where cartoony characters walk around in realistically-rendered backgrounds. Hoet and Heirman merely made their comics for fun. Once Hoet became museum curator, their comic production career came to an end.

Decades later, in 2005, comic journalist Geert De Weyer convinced publishing company Oogachtend to collect the 1969 story 'Professor Peeh en de Voesjesmannen' in a limited book edition. As a curator of that year's Comics Festival of Turnhout, De Weyer organized an exhibition about the comics Hoet and Heirman made together. He also interviewed them about the work. This interview was included in the 2005 book collection. 'Professor Peeh en de Voesjesmannen' is a silly tale about Mr. Peeh and his son Baby. One day they go out looking for cockchafers (maybugs) in the woods. Suddenly they tumble into an underground hallway, where they are imprisoned by a group of gnomes, named the "Voesjesmannen" The idea of the Voesjesmannen story seems to be inspired by the then popular Flemish children's TV series 'Johan en de Alverman' (1965-1966), which also starred a knight and a gnome.


'Professor Peeh and de Voesjesmannen', characters by Rony Heirman and backgrounds by Jan Hoet.

Art projects in Belgium
In 1975, Hoet became head of the Museum of Contemporary Art (Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst) in Ghent. Throughout the years, he organized many events that attracted a lot of media coverage. For instance, 'Kunst in Europa na '68' (1980) highlighted European art created since the May 1968 student protests. With 'Chambres d'Amis' (1986), Hoet exhibited prestigious artworks inside the homes of people in Ghent. In 1999, he changed the name of his museum to "Stedelijk Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst" (City Museum of Contemporary Art), or S.M.A.K. in short. On the opening day, he organized a boxing competition. Hoet had experience as an amateur boxer and decided to challenge the artist Dennis Bellone to a fight. Real-life boxer Freddy de Kerpel acted as referee. In 2000, the entire city of Ghent became part of an art project named 'Over the Edges', consisting of a tour along installations, sculptures, assemblages and paintings in various parts of the city. In 2003, Hoet retired as head of the S.M.A.K., but nevertheless remained active in the art world. His project, 'Track' (2012), exhibited several modern artworks in the St. Baafs (St. Bavo's) cathedral in Ghent. 'Middle Gate' (2012) juxtaposed works of modern artists with works by psychiatric patients. The exhibition was set in Geel, a city known for its psychiatric institute. 'De Zee' (2014-2015) was a collaboration with the MuZee museum in Ostend, nearby the Belgian coast.

International art projects
On many occasions, Hoet was asked to organize exhibitions abroad too. He gained international stature with the ninth edition of Documenta (12 June-20 September 1992) in Kassel, Germany. Hearing that rock musician Frank Zappa was in the country to perform with the Ensemble Modern orchestra, Hoet asked him to play at the art festival. Unfortunately, the terminally ill Zappa had to pass this request. Still, the two men met a few times, and Zappa signed a CD for Hoet. Jan Hoet was also the brain behind 'Ripple Across The Water' (1995) in Tokyo, Japan, 'Sonsbeek 9' (2001) in Arnhem, the Netherlands, and various exhibitions in Montréal, Lissabon, Mexico City and Yinchuan, China. Between 2003 and 2008, he was artistic leader of the MARTa Herford museum in Herford, Germany. He worked with the architect Frank Gehry on the design of the building.

Art and Graphic Innovation in European Comics
Although Hoet was too busy to make new stories himself, he didn't turn his back on comics. He kept praising the medium, which is still a remarkable position to take in the modern art world. Between 4 July and 6 September 1987, he organized an exhibition about European comics in his Ghent museum. The expo, 'Kunst en Grafische Vernieuwing in het Europees Beeldverhaal' ('Art and Graphic Innovation in European Comics'), featured original artwork by Belgian artists like Frédéric Bezian, Enki Bilal, Didier Comès, Paul Cuvelier, René Follet, André Franquin, Hergé, Hermann, Edgar P. JacobsJijé, Louis Joos, Marc Sleen, François Schuiten, Frits Van den Berghe, Willy Vandersteen and Yslaire. Hoet also gave attention to French artists like Philippe Bertrand, François Boucq, François Bourgeon, Max Cabanes, Philippe Druillet, Jean-Claude Forest, Gébé, Paul Gillon, Jean Giraud, Loustal, Francis Masse, Philippe Marcelé, Chantal Montellier, Georges Pichard, Jean-Marc Reiser and Alex Varenne. Switzerland was represented with comic art by Cosey, Derib and Gérald Poussin, Italy by Guido Buzzelli, Silvio Cadelo, Lorenzo Mattotti and Hugo Pratt, Poland by Grzegorz Rosinski and the Netherlands by Dick Matena. The accompanying catalogue featured contributions by Hoet himself, Jean Ann, Marc Bauloye, Bernard Chapuis, Arnaud de la Croix, Jacques de Pierpont, Jean-Marie Derscheid, Danny Dewilde, Kris De Saeger, Daniel Fanoy, J.M. Goossens, Bernard Lacoeuille, Pascal Lefèvre, Dirk Liefooghe, Francis Matthys and Rob van Eyck.

In 2008 Hoet also wrote the foreword to '100 Stripklassiekers Die Niet In Je Bibliotheek Mogen Ontbreken' (Atlas, 2008), a book chronicling 100 important or otherwise great comic classics, handpicked by journalist Geert De Weyer. 


Exhibition poster before Schuiten's French dialogue text was blanked out.

The World of Comics in Originals
On 16 May 2013, Hoet and politician Dany Vandenbossche opened a comics exhibition in the Loketten ("Ticket Booths") of the Flemish Parliament in Brussels. They exhibited more than 200 original comic pages, and Marc Sleen was present at the opening day. Artwork by Flemish cartoonists was exhibited in the Flemish Parliament, while in the Council of the Flemish Community Commission pages by comic artists from Brussels were put on display under the title 'De Wereld van de Strips in Originelen' ('The World of Comics in Originals'). Although the choices were made in collaboration with the Belgian Comic Strip Center in Brussels and various collectors, most of the drawings were never seen by the public before. Just for fun, Hoet also exhibited some of his own comic pages made in collaboration with Rony Heirman.

The expo ran until 10 July of that same year, and also made headlines for a more controversial reason. The official poster showed an image from François Schuiten's graphic novel 'L'Enfant Penchée', with a French-language dialogue in the speech balloon. The text was later blanked out on the poster, because the head of the Flemish Parliament, Jan Peumans, objected at French-language dialogue in a Dutch-language parliament. Although Peumans admitted his objections, he later claimed that the decision to blank out the speech balloon wasn't his, but done by the curators. Apparently, the posters were already printed, so the amendment had to be done manually. Several participating comic artists protested, namely Jeroom, Kamagurka, Marec, Nix, Quirit, Zaza, Vincent Baudoux, Cécile Bertrand, Emiel de Bolle, Canary Pete, Clou, Cost, Vincent Dubois, Frédéric duBus, Josse Goffin, Paul de Groeve, Jacpé, Jean-Louis Lejeune, Kanar, Karl, Kroll, Johan De Moor, Philippe Moins, Olivier Saive, Samuel, Herr Seele, Jacques Sandron, Nicolas Vadot, Vejo and Xavier Zeegers. Kamagurka even went so far to ask for the removal of his cartoons from the expo.

Interviewed by Le Soir, Schuiten said he was surprised one of his drawings was selected for the official poster and understood that a French-language drawing "wasn't the best choice for an exhibition in the Flemish parliament." Still he disliked the way the problem was handled. In his opinion, an image from the Dutch translation should have been used. By blanking out text on an exhibition highlighting the link between text and image, the intention of the expo was torpedoed. Schuiten: "This country deserves better than this storm in a teacup." In a personal letter to Schuiten, Peumans expressed that it wasn't his intention to question the artist's artistic integrity.


"Art pope" Jan Hoet by Karl Meersman.

Popularity and criticism
Thanks to his talent for attracting huge crowds to museums, Jan Hoet was a well-respected and renowned name in the art world. His stature was such that he boosted the international careers of many artists he favored, like Michael Borremans, Marcel Broodthaers, Jan De Cock, Wim Delvoye, Jan Fabre, Panamarenko and Luc Tuymans. Hoet was also early to recognize the future importance of German conceptual artist Joseph Beuys. When he bought Beuys' works, the city council of Ghent felt the investment was too expensive. Yet later Hoet was able to resell these works for millions to a German museum. Politicians and patrons were often sceptical about his projects and refused to give him the proper funding. For 'Chambres d'Amis', Hoet even had to borrow extra money from his parents. In the 1980s, he went into politics as a candidate for the christian-democratic party CVP (nowadays CD&V), so he could have more impact on local government decisions. After the elections, the new mayor told him that if he wanted to fulfill his mandate, he'd have to give up his museum. Hoet preferred the museum and was granted the necessary finances after all. As such, he gave up his mandate.

Since Hoet's passion for his job was so electrifying and charming, journalists loved to interview him. The enthusiastic "art pope" often appeared in popular talkshows, where he gushed about his favorite artists and works. By not using elitarian or high brow language, he easily won public sympathy. He loved art to such degrees that he sometimes spent the night in his own museum, just to marvel at his own collection. He also admitted being jealous of other museum collections, because he always wanted to own more. Oddly enough, he didn't have paintings in his own house. Everything he bought was invested in his museum, because he wanted to share these works with the public.

Unavoidably, the art critic himself became subject of criticism too. Some criticized Hoet for turning art into a fair. Press and audiences enjoyed the spectacle, but often didn't understand why the presented works were art. Hoet's extatic commentary had far more entertainment value than many of the artworks themselves. Cartoonists and comedians, most memorably imitator Chris Van den Durpel, ridiculed Hoet for seeing art in seemingly everyday objects. Some people, especially artists not favored by Hoet, felt his subjective opinions were treated too much as gospel. He could literally make and break careers.

Interviewed in Humo magazine #3103 (22 February 2000), Hoet fully admitted he was deeply uncertain whether he promoted the "right" works of art. It bothered him that so many people trusted his opinions. Remarkably enough, he also distanced himself from the art industry. In his opinion, it was scandalous that so many billionaires paid fortunes for certain paintings, only because of the artist's name. Hoet also had enough self mockery to enjoy the way humorists ridiculed him.


Jan Hoet appearing in the comic series 'De Geverniste Vernepelingskes' by Urbanus and Jan Bosschaert.

Recognition
During his lifetime, Hoet received many awards, including a Goethe Medal (1992), Verdienstkreuz 1. Klasse der Bundesrepublik Deutschland (1992), Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1997) and Officer and Knight in the Order of the Belgian Crown (2000).

Final years and death
Hoet was a lifelong chain smoker who refused to quit his habit. One time he cancelled a foreign business deal, solely because he wasn't allowed to smoke inside the building. Eventually his health caught up with him. Already in 1991, his left kidney had to be removed and replaced by an artificial one because of kidney cancer. Despite needing weekly kidney dialysis, he kept working on new art projects and travelling abroad. Two decades later, in 2012, he collapsed at the airport of Hamburg. A heavy lung infection forced doctors to keep him in an artificial coma for a week. Two years later, he suffered a heart attack. He survived, but only for a month. On 27 February 2014, the legendary "art pope" passed away. His funeral was combined with a huge art happening. His casket was designed by the artist Marijke Declercq. His old friend Rony Heirman had passed away half a year earlier. Hoet's name lives on in the Jan Hoet Square ("Jan Hoetplein") near the S.M.A.K. museum in Ghent.


Jan Hoet in 1987 (Stripschrift #216, photo: Pieter van Oudheusden).

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