Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams at MoMA




Isek Kingelez
Bodys Isekk Kingelez: City Dreams ~Ville Fantome, 1996

Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams is a whimsical and wonderful wish for a more harmonious society throughout the world, now on view at MoMA.  The eclectic, colorful exhibit has been shown almost daily on social media pages, blog sites, and Instagram. But this is such an exceptional exhibition ~ and the first retrospective of Kingelez’s work in the United States, that we are adding to the tsunami of images and descriptions.

A wishful model of Kingelez’s own home village, reimagined.

Bodys Isek Kingelez was born in what was, in 1948, the Belgian Congo.  After graduating from secondary school, he supported himself by teaching, and by working as a restorer of tribal masks at the National Museum in Kinshasa. It was during this time that he began to create some of his first works.

In the above model, Kingelez reimagines his own agricultural home village ~ Kimbembele Ihunga (1994) with a soccer stadium, banks, restaurants, and skyscrapers!  All of which was a complete departure from the reality of a town lacking in all of these amenities.  Kimbembele Ihunga was his first model of a city.

A close-up of the imagined Kingelez Stadium

By 1985, he was working full-time as an artist, and in 1989, he was invited to Paris to present his work in a group exhibition entitled Les Magicians de la Terre.

Bodys Isek Kingelez: City of Dreams “Ville de Sete

He went on to create many such imaginative urban cities, reflecting dreams for his country, his continent, and eventually, fanciful, wishful cities around the world ~ his utopian models for a more harmonious society of the future.  The exhibition Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams spans the three-decade career of this visionary Congolese artist whose words were as potent as his art.

Above, model is entitled Ville de Sete 3009, 2000, a French port city where he did a month-long residency, staying at Hotel Azur.  This is the only work in which Kingelez incorporated electric lights.

Kingelez ~ Ville Fantome, 1996

Ville Fantome, 1996 above and below, is the artists largest cityscape, taking two-years to create, and comprised of 50 structures.  This is the artists vision of a city where doctors and police are not needed. “It’s a city that breathes nothing but joy, the beauty of life. It’s a melting pot of all races in the world. Here you live in a paradise, just like heaven.”

Isek Kingelez
Bodys Isekk Kingelez: City Dreams ~ Ville Fantome, 1996
Kingelez  ~ Ville Fantome, 1996
Kingelez’s Ville Fantome, 1996

The models were created from a wide array of everyday materials and found objects including colored paper, commercial packaging, plastic, soda cans, and bottle caps.

Kingelez’s United Nations

Above and below, The United Nations was created for a 1995 exhibition that celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the U.N.  Of this piece, Kingelez said that “the stars are distributed around the form of the building. They represent the member countries, which I want to be equal. In this palace, peace is an indispensable tool for the democracy of nations.”

A close-up look at the United Nations model

His work reflects not only his hope for the future but also his feeling about the world he lived in, like excessive construction projects financed by the World Bank, and ignoring the needs of the population. “The joys of our world are, after all, dependent on the people living in it. I built these cities to be full of peace, justice and freedoms.”

In addition to his piece on The United Nations, works in the exhibition also include The Scientific Center of Hospitalisation the SIDA (1991) referencing the AIDS crisis, and Palais d’hiroshima (1991) addressing the condition of postwar Japan.

Kingelez’s Industria Pharmacia
Kingelez’s Stars Palme Bouygues

The model above, Stars Palme Bouygues, was inspired by his six-month stay in Paris in 1989. It references the Grand Arche de la Defense, a landmark built for the bicentennial of the French Revolution, and inaugurated while Kingelez was there.

Kingelez’s Place de la Ville

The above model, Place de la Ville, is a city square lined with composites of the Zairian flag. A bright red placard proudly displays the letters MPR which stand for Movement Popular de la Revolution, Zaire’s ruling political party.

Kingelez’s Etoile Rouge Congolaise, 1990

The model above, left – Etoile Rouge Congolaise, 1990 is topped with a red star, representing the artist’s socialist ideals for society. This piece was dedicated to the citizens of the Republic of the Congo, and houses what he called the “High Multicultural Court of Wisdom” where art and knowledge contribute to humanity’s well-being.

Below, Aeromode is his highly efficient modern airport, designed for the next century.

Kingelez’s Aeromode (Aeroport Moderne), 1991

Bodys Isek Kingelez created more than 300 models during his short lifetime.  He passed away in 2015 as a result of cancer. He left this world with an impressive body of work and these words, “I make this most deeply imaginary, meticulous and well considered work with the aim of having more influence over life……thanks to my deep hope for a happy tomorrow, I strive to better my quality, and the better comes the wonderful.”

Kingelez City of Dreams
Bodys Isek Kingelez: City of Dreams at MoMA

In all, MoMA is exhibiting  33 models by Body Isek Kingelez in the exhibition Bodys Isek Kingelez: City Dreams, organized by Sarah Suzuki, Curator, with Hilary Reder, Curatorial Assistant, Department of Drawings and Prints, The Museum of Modern Art. The exhibition design is produced in collaboration with the artist Carsten Holler. City Dreams will be on view to January 1, 2019 at Museum of Modern Art, Floor three, The Philip Johnson Galleries.

In an adjacent room, the documentary Kingelez: Kinshasa, A City Rethought, 2003, continuously runs the 30-minute first-person account of Kingelez’s process, ethos, and life in Kinshasa.


In keeping with the thought of reuse of found materials in art, save the date for The 8th Floor exhibition, Sedimentations: Assemblage as Social Repair opening on June 21, 2018.