Jean Schwind is born in Ghent on 25 December 1935 as Jean François Joseph Warie, son of Roger Warie (1901-1991) and Simona Schwind (1899-1986). Roger Warie is an architect, trained at Ghent's Sint Lucas School, where he later teaches as well. His career mainly focuses on the restoration of public monuments, among others Oudenaerde's 16th-century Town Hall, a 'pearl of the Gothic'.
After high-school, Jean Warie goes on to study Romance Philology at the Ghent University. In September 1965, he is awarded his master's degree with a thesis entitled Eléments de l’art d’écrire chez Paul Léautaud. At the start of 1966, Warie is appointed as full-time university assistant in Seminars on Romance Literature in Ghent. Already in his student days he had married Fernande Van Ryckeghem, with whom he would have two daughters.
In October 1968, Jean Warie's friend Edith De Witte inaugurates Galerie Fitzroy in Brussels. The gallery continues up until 1971, and presents naïve art, the new realists Mimmo Rotella and François Dufrêne, Belgian new art – Roland Van den Berghe, Marcel Broodthaers, Marcel Maeyer, Paul Van Hoeydonck, Etienne Elias and the surrealist Marcel Mariën – and three solo exhibitions by a certain Jean Schwind.
May 1969 first exhibition of Schwind – the pseudonym is his mother's maiden name – at Galerie Fitzroy: lyrical abstract drawings imitating the epigones of an outdated style. Early 1970 Œuvres érotiques de J.S. [Erotic drawings by J.S.] at Galerie Richard Foncke in Ghent, Galerie Fitzroy in Brussels and Galerie Kontakt in Antwerp. Provocative, large-format erotic drawings reminiscent of both Dubuffet and graffiti. As will be his custom, the artist is not present at the openings, clandestinity being one of his strategic choices. He performs Occupations and Sealings, symbolic actions whereby offices and galleries are occupied or put under seal. The actions are photographically documented, wholly in keeping with the style of the time.
Collection Schwind opens 16 March 1971 at Galerie Fitzroy. Twenty appropriations of the New Realists Arman, César, Christo, Klein, Rotella and Spoerri, and also of works from Fontana, Manzoni, Soto and Van Hoeydonck. After a while, the art crowd present gets the point and the opening ends in general uproar. Shortly thereafter at Galerie Yellow Now in Liège opens Schwind – Anti-collection with appropriations of Christo only. Still in 1971 he makes twenty appropriations for the exhibition Collection Schwind II – Arte povera, which is not open for public view. All works are destroyed. Only a documentation file remains. The same fate befalls most of the other appropriations after use for pseudo-exhibitions.
1972, Collection Schwind expands into Schwind Foundation. Schwind appropriates the' aesthetics of administration' of conceptual art. On Plan N°1, he charts the appropriations he had already made as well as those still intended. With the edition Fifty Appropriations and the slide-series Thirty Other Appropriations, he pastiches the most extreme conceptual artists. Along with other artists of the Yellow Now gallery he participates in group exhibitions, such as the first video art exhibition in
In 1972 he resigns from his position at the university and becomes editor at Mercatorfonds, a major Belgian publisher of art books.Has his last solo shows: Omaggio a Fontana (Appropriation N° 17) in 1972 and the radical Constitution des dossiers N° 19 et 20 de la Schwind Foundation. Dossier N°19: la galerie Yellow Now (Liège); dossier N° 20: l'artiste J.L. (Liège) at Yellow Now, Liège, on March 7, 1973, consisting of conversations and the intention to constitute 'files'. Participates in group exhibitions of New Reform Gallery, Alost.
In the summer of 1974, he takes part in two large survey exhibitions of contemporary art in Belgium, Triënnale 3 in Bruges and Aspecten van de actuele kunst in België [Aspects of Current Art in Belgium] at the ICC in Antwerp. Riding the last conceptual waves, he presents his comparative index cards and L'Oeuvre référentielle (1974), six panels of text and collage that draw up –
not without irony – the balance sheet of his career as Belgium's first and only appropriation artist.
In 1974-‘75 Schwind works on a collection of objects in the black, yellow and red tricolor of the Belgian national flag, so making reference to Marcel Broodthaers and other artists, and pulling the rug out from under the notion of a 'national' art.
At the opening of Triënnale 3, he had dispatched a telegram from Paris to the organizers by way of an appropriation from On Kawara: 'I AM STILL ALIVE SCHWIND.' Two years later, he indeed puts an end to his alter ego by sending out in May 1976 his fictitious death notice.
In 1978 he grants two interviews to Christian Bussy for Arts Hebdo, the principal arts program of French-language Belgian television, one conversation about his own body of work and another about Broodthaers. In Ypres in 1981 he is represented with seven works in a large retrospective exhibition of avant-garde art in Belgium. The concise memoirs which he contributes to the catalogue conclude with: ' Gentlemen! Art kills... I clammed up. Lascia la pittura, studia le donne! [Drop painting, go study women!]' In order for him to self-appropriate the status of artist, he had been obliged to take part in this selfsame art world. As a consequence, the battle first engaged with such bravery and zeal against the inadequacy of art would itself end up transformed into art.
At the beginning of the Eighties, Warie is still working for the Mercatorfonds publishing house, and is involved as 'coordinator' for the volume Kunst in België na 45 [Art in Belgium after '45], the first standard work on this period, appearing in 1983 under Karel Geirlandt's editorship. One of the striking illustrations of the opening pages is the culminating piece of his Collection belge, the funeral wreath A notre cher art belge/Schwind, and further on in the book much work by the artiste maudit is pictured.
Jean Warie dies on the first of August 1985 in Grasse, South-France, where he and his family had gone to live. It takes a while for the news to become known, and even longer for it to be believed. With his demise begins a conspiracy of silence that is nonetheless from time-to-time broken, like by Harald Szeemann, the curator's curator. In his last exhibition, La Belgique visionnaire/Visionair België (2005), he wrests Schwind from oblivion by including Portrait bleu, one of the works of the Collection Schwind that had caused so-much scandal on 16 March 1971.
2014 marks the return of the Schwind Foundation on the occasion of the Jean Schwind retrospective in the S.M.A.K. (Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst) in Ghent, accompanied by a first monograph and a website devoted to the artist.