You thought that the visual arts would cool off over the summer? Well think again. With an erupting volcano, all-devouring teddy bears, and loudly echoing protest voices, Brussels is stoking the fire to burn even more brightly. Here are the eighth hottest exhibitions.
The revolution in images
The revolutions of 1968 also brought about a revolution in posters. Using silkscreen printing for the first time, protest posters were produced by the hundreds in the “ateliers populaires” at the École des Beaux-Arts in Paris and then plastered all over the city’s walls. The limits of the technique, low on detail, resulted in a stripped-back visual style with a limited number of colours.
The exhibition at the MIMA, drawn from Michaël Lellouche’s wonderful collection, spans the years from 1968 to 1973, not just in the French capital but all over the world wherever young people were challenging establishment values. These posters carry images and slogans that have become legendary and also show the emergence of new protest movements related to the rights of minorities, feminism, and the environment.
GET UP, STAND UP! > 30/12, MIMA
Head in the clouds
Fifty works from our national history of art and one stunning panorama across Brussels. This fantastic combination does not cost a single cent. Were you looking for a reason to visit the Belfius Art Collection?
Well: the annual selection from the bank’s enormous art collection has this year been entitled “Magma Cloud Ashes”, which stands for the colours red, white, and black. We will happily ignore the fact that black and white are not strictly colours because it is thanks to the leitmotif of black-white-red that the exhibition can make connections across artistic movements. Jan Brueghel hangs opposite Philip Aguirre y Otegui and the vermillion of Alechinsky clashes with that of Ann Veronica Janssens.
While it is true that the “gallery” still feels like the 32nd floor of an office building, it is important to bear that old proverb about gift horses in mind.
MAGMA CLOUD ASHES 28/7, 25/8, 8 & 22/9, 6 & 20/10, 3 & 17/11, 1 & 15/12, Belfius Tower
Party for Magritte
More than fifty years after his celestial assumption, the Brussels master of surrealism René Magritte is filling a solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. This means that there is some free space at the Magritte Museum in Brussels, which has loaned some works for that retrospective.
To fill these gaps, the museum called in Nicolas Party. The Swiss artist, who is currently dividing his time between Brussels and New York and who recently won the Solo Prize for his booth at Art Brussels, makes no secret of Magritte’s influence on his art. He uses his almost addictive, bright pastels to make images that are so clearly images that they create an alienatingly sensory universe between still life and theatrical staging, seeing and knowing, the head and the heart, and here and nowhere. Magritte himself still haunts that twilight zone.
NICOLAS PARTY INVITED AT THE MAGRITTE MUSEUM > 18/11, Musée Magritte Museum
As though you walk into a place where you live what you dream. Where above can become below, your deepest inner depths an exuberant exterior, and where the heart overflows in all the colours of the rainbow. This is the feeling that overwhelms you at Bozar, where the inimitable Charlemagne Palestine is recreating his temperamental but cuddly soft world full of stuffed animals, colourful rags, and spectacular sounds this summer.
And the 70-year-old Brooklyn-born but Brussels-based visual and sound artist, performer, and “crazy uncle” to the contemporary scene of Gesamtkünstler, is doing things to the max. With excessive love, for his divine cuddly toys and for us. Which, like an embrace, produces warm, intense waves of euphoria. Of exuberant life. Retrospective, sschmmettrroossppecctivve!
CHARLEMAGNE PALESTINE: AA SSCHMMETTRROOSSPPECCTIVVE > 26/8, Bozar
Thank God the World Cup is over. After all that nail-biting and cheering for the Red Devils, you are desperate for some mindfulness in the woods. But you don’t literally need to go to the countryside to find the rest you seek. The work of Japanese photographer Hiroshi Sugimoto will spontaneously bring your life back into balance. You might describe him as a Zen photographer.
Sugimoto once decorated a U2 album cover with his seascapes, but in the exhibition “Still Life”, Sugimoto is juxtaposing his own work with that of the Flemish Primitives for the first time. “This was a very challenging project. We are competing with each other. I don’t want to lose, but I can never win.” The black and white gelatin silver prints of dioramas and portraits of wax figures are rich in detail, beautifully lit, static but not deadened. The perfect place for some R&R.
HIROSHI SUGIMOTO: STILL LIFE > 19/8, Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium
Back to the workshop
Wandering around the first exhibition at Kanal is quite an experience. There is the majesty of the spaces, with the patina developed over years of work, oil, and grease. There are the distances to cover and above all the quality of the works. When, in the early 1930s, André Citroën envisioned a grandiose new space to house his workshops and display his range of vehicles, he couldn’t have imagined that, much later, it would become a centre for contemporary art.
And the place seems made for its new use. The works by big names, many of them drawn from the collections of the Centre Pompidou, are magnified by the space. The former offices host “Object: Administration”. The car body workshops seem just right for “Sheet Steel”, with its large metal sculptures, while the former car park hosts installations.
KANAL BRUT > 10/6, Kanal – Centre Pompidou
For what it's worth
Wiels is the place to be for incisive, daring exhibitions that keep their finger on the pulse of the world and art. Last year, for its tenth anniversary, the leading art institution had already shed its critical light on the museum for contemporary art that Brussels has been waiting for, and the voices that such an “absent museum” should make present.
This year, they are expanding the debate with “Unexchangeable”, a reflection on the increasingly important relationships between museums and collectors, and the art that can again be made visible through such collaborations. Via works dating – primarily – from the end of the 1980s and early 1990s, by Chéri Samba, Lili Dujourie, Jef Geys, Jim Shaw, Francis Alÿs, and others, Wiels explores the “true” value of a work of art: the heart that beats outside its economic dimension.
UNEXCHANGEABLE > 12/8, Wiels
Lens on the Prague Spring
Not every great struggle has been immortalised by a photographer of Josef Koudelka’s calibre. The response of the Czechs and Slovaks to the invasion of their capital by Soviet tanks in 1968, however, was.
As part of the Summer of Photography, the Botanique is exhibiting the eminent photographer’s legendary images. Amid the great unrest during the invasion of Soviet tanks and soldiers, the then 30-year-old Koudelka took a series of intense photos which were miraculously smuggled out of the country.
They arrived in New York one year later. Magnum Photos published the images and attributed them to an anonymous Czech photographer to avoid reprisals. It was only sixteen years later that Josef Koudelka, who won the Robert Capa Gold Medal Award for the stunning series, could safely acknowledge his authorship.
JOSEF KOUDELKA: INVASION PRAGUE 68 > 12/8, Botanique