History

Karel Geirlandt was the man behind the founding, on 8 November 1957, of the ‘Society for the Museum of Contemporary Art’, whose main ambition was to establish an independent museum that focused on contemporary trends in the art world.

The Museum of Fine Art had for some time appeared to have completely lost touch with developments in art. The old art history model needed to adopt a more flexible form with which to approach current developments. Major works were still being purchased by the Museum of Fine Art, but because there was no watchful interest in modern art, several fine opportunities were missed. Geirlandt’s objective was no different from that of Fernand Scribe when he founded ‘Les Amis du Musée’ in 1897. His intention, and that of the other friends, was to raise the Museum of Fine Art to a higher level, in line with the international art scene.

‘S.M.A.K. puts the artist at the heart of its thoughts and actions. We invest in the greatest possible quality for a broad and varied public and would like to be experienced as an open house: transparent and generous. In artistic terms, we present ourselves as a laboratory, a place of experiment and renewal, where we can see today what may be important tomorrow. S.M.A.K. leaves questions open, urges one to think, retains its scepticism.'
Philippe Van Cauteren

With an eye to the future, the ‘Society’ also purchased works. This initiative is still continuing today and the collection now comprises several hundred works. The financial resources come from the members and the sale of print folios. Since its foundation, the ‘Society’ has enthusiastically organised numerous debates and talks to keep the public informed of recent trends, attitudes and opinions. Its artistic excursions expand horizons and concise publications enable ongoing reflection.

The Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent was established in 1975. It was then the first Belgian museum devoted to contemporary art. It was housed in the Museum of Fine Art.

Jan Hoet was appointed director of this new Museum of Contemporary Art, also in 1975. Under his leadership, the collection grew consistently and the museum gained an international reputation. Since the museum existed for more than twenty years in provisional accommodation, the collection was only shown in fragmentary and constantly changing displays in temporary exhibitions. Major acquisitions made during its last five years were in fact never put on display at all.

It was to be another 20 years before Jan Hoet and the contemporary art collection were given their own independent museum.

Things started to move in 1996 when the ‘Red Gate’ opened. The ‘Red Gate’ was the museum’s opening exhibition in its new, but again temporary accommodation. The Museum of Contemporary Art found itself in the depot of the future museum, which was a converted wing of the former annual fair complex. The opening of the actual museum, in the converted ‘casino’, was scheduled for the end of 1998. The building as a whole was shown to the public on 9 November 1996 in a large-scale project in which all the rooms were used for all the various media involved in visual art.

In 1999 the museum was given its own building opposite the Museum of Fine Art and was given a new name: S.M.A.K. (Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst). The two museums now function as a museum island in a park alongside Ghent’s ring-road.

In May 2002 Sven Jacobs was appointed as administrative director and he was succeeded by Philippe Vandenweghe on 1 January 2009.

On 1 December 2003 Jan Hoet was succeeded as artistic director by Peter Doroshenko (1962, USA). In 2005 he was in turn succeeded by Philippe Van Cauteren (1969, Belgium). Under his leadership the exhibition programme has become hugely dynamic, with explorations of the collection, large-scale solo exhibitions, international exchanges, presentations by young artists, a series of film and video exhibitions and projects in Ghent’s public space.