The Paris Review

The Unknowable Artist: Stéphane Mandelbaum

Where is the line between genius and madness? The Belgian artist, poet, and art thief Stéphane Mandelbaum’s attempt to create a lasting mythology of himself led to a macabre, untimely death.

Stéphane Mandelbaum, Arthur Rimbaud. 1980

To understand the Belgian artist Stéphane Mandelbaum, it is best to begin at the end of his life. Few agree on how he lived, but most agree on how he died. It was garish and violent. He was shot in Namur, in central Belgium. Acid was splashed on his face to make his body harder to identify. His corpse was thrown into a landfill. He was twenty-five years old. His bright, brief life and his art-brut style are often compared to those of Jean-Michel Basquiat, but whereas Basquiat found his way to the center of the art world, Mandelbaum was always an outsider. His life was a mixture of realities and self-imposed fictions that were so potent that even he forgot who he was. At the crucial moment of his death, Mandelbaum thought he was a hardened criminal when, in truth, he was closer to

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