Belgium has cultural traditions going a long way back. But the expansion of what we call today Belgium contemporary art started in the 60s in Antwerp in collaboration with Brussels.
– There was a great dynamic interest in the late 1950s for contemporary art and its abstract expression.
Doctor Johan Pas, lecturer in modern art at the Hogeschool in Antwerp says that there was no museum of contemporary art at the time in Belgium.
– The Palais de Bozar, which is the center for fine arts in Brussels was used to exhibit large exhibitions of contemporary art and is still an important exhibition venue with programmes encompassing music, film and literature.
Things began to change in the 1960s and by 1968 artists had begun to occupy public buildings such as De Bozar in Brussels and the Royal National Museum in Antwerp.
Doctor Johan Pas explains that it was suggested that the Royal Palace in Antwerp, which was not in use, could be utilized as a center for artists. The King gave his consent and The International Centre for Culture ( ICC ) in Antwerp was born.
This was the very first centre for Contemporary Art in Flanders, and was in operation from 1969 to 1985. The centre became an important meeting place for both national and international gatherings where programmes by such artists as Gordon Matta-Clark and James Lee Byers were represented.
– By the 1970s Antwerp had become the most avant-garde city in Belgium. 1966 saw the opening of Gallery Widespace where abstract art, Fluxus and Christo were presented.
In 1977 the ICC director Flor Bex invited Gordon Matta-Clark to present a programme at the ICC. He chose an empty location at Ernst Ven Dijkkaal and made a work called Office Baroque. Matta-Clark died the following year leaving this work as the only one in existence.
– Flor Bex decided to buy the building and started a campaign to finance the idea. He invited artists who had known Matta-Clark to donate a painting in the hope that the proceeds from the sales would finance the project. The paintings were of such high quality that Flor Bex decided to use them to build a new collection. However, he never managed to buy the building which housed Matta-Clark’s last work, and the building was demolished in the early 1980s.
Later on in that decade Bex approached the authorities with the idea of creating a museum of modern art, MuKHA. Several of the paintings he had collected in the 1970s became a part of this collection.
– After that the scene for contemporary art in Belgium flourished. Antwerp has always been an active part of the scene, and several galleries were established in the 1980s, and of course MuKHA. In Ghent the Stedeljik Museum voor Actuele Kunst (S.M.A.K.) was established in 1999. The modern art collection was originally exhibited in Museum voor Schone Kunsten.
– Brussels established Palais the bozaar, and in 2007 Wiels was opened. The last few years have seen momentous growth in Brussels. A whole new scene.