In an unveiling of sorts, future museum Kanal invites the people of Brussels and elsewhere within its bare walls to visit a series of exhibitions, put together by the Centre Pompidou. 300 works of modern and contemporary art that have never been given such a platform.
Definitely one of the main cultural events of the spring: a 35,000 m2 industrial space in the middle of Brussels turned into a vast cultural complex on the bank of the canal. Before the final transformations, which will begin in June 2019 and take at least three years to complete, those at the helm wanted to put the place to use and raise spirits with a series of exhibitions in these spaces, which have only very recently been purged of their ties to the world of the automobile. With substantial support from their French partner, the Centre Pompidou, this introductory exhibition presents 300 works of modern and contemporary art from the stores of the Parisian art centre.
The plan given out at the entrance invites you to lose yourself. Though there is an overwhelming amount of space in the former Citroën Yser garage, it is intelligently used, with most of the pieces concentrated in the former body repair workshops and offices. What is miraculous about this exceptional exhibition is the perfect harmony between the pieces and the space and its history. Could César have dreamed of a more fitting environment for one of his compressions than a spray booth, adjacent to the one containing John Chamberlain’s The Bride in sheet metal and chrome plating? As you walk among the pieces, you naturally begin to look at everything in a different light. Some peeling layers of paint on a pillar become an artistic intervention. A seating area becomes a sculpture. A protective panel for workers suddenly seems very “Duchampian”.
It’s the same in the former offices, which present pieces inspired by the world of work. With false ceilings, grey lino flooring, and washed-out lighting, the whole environment becomes a hyper-realistic backdrop for Erwin Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures, Jenny Holzer’s silent slogans, Marcel Broodthaers’s typewriter, and Matias Faldbakken’s compressed cabinets. Here, once again, you get the unsettling impression that the staff have just deserted the premises, leaving you with the outlines of cabinets on the walls and traces of wheel rubber on the lino floors. In the changing rooms, the metal doors, like clappers, play a sort of lifeless industrial ragtime in Younes Baba-Ali’s unsettling installation.
On the second floor, which is accessed via a ramp, the largest pieces are more spaced out. This allows the magnificent space to breathe, with its metal frame, glass exterior, and unparalleled view out over the city. The place is still so imbued with its past life that, at any moment during the visit, you expect to come across some mechanics in grease-stained work clothes or a client arriving in a hurry to collect their DS that has just had its clutch replaced. A succession of three show rooms running the length of the building present some major late-twentieth-century works of minimalist art. On the ground floor, filmmaker Michel Gondry equipped a studio with all the necessary technical equipment, sets, and props to make his film in one day. Ariane Loze, one of ten Brussels artists selected by Kanal, was way ahead of him. With no need for equipment or props, she made her film in the completely deserted spaces, featuring herself as a multitude of characters.
Kanal Brut is an undeniable success and an exhibition that will be remembered. Climb aboard, the view is fantastic!