The presentation is made up of two parts. In the museum itself, Jan Hoet compiles a retrospective exhibition on post-war Belgian art. At the same time, at several locations in Ghent, attention is focused on the work of international artists in the collection.
Since the opening of S.M.A.K. in Ghent in May ’99, the institution’s exhibition policy has moved on with great rapidity. Many large-scale projects including retrospective exhibitions such as Over the Edges and Casino 2001.1ste Quadriënnale voor Hedendaagse Kunst, as well as solo exhibitions such as Panamarenko, Jannis Kounellis and Jan Fabre, have followed one another in quick succession. Between exhibitions, the museum has made dynamic use of its own collection in a constantly changing display. The collection is of an exceptionally high quality. Almost two thousand works of art, by artists renowned both in this country and internationally, trace the evolution of contemporary art from World War II to the present. Many works are loaned on request to other museums. The museum is also frequently invited to present a selection of its own collection abroad, such as recently in Mexico City, Paris and Umea. In the S.M.A.K.: 50 years of Belgian art During the summer the entire museum will be cleared for an exhibition of Belgian works from the collection. Work will be shown of a total of 90 artists, who together form a sample of artistic visions and a substantial part of Belgian art history. It includes the work of Burssens and Landuyt. Lyrical abstract painters such as Mendelsohn, Wyckaert and Van Anderlecht versus the geometrical abstract artists Peire, Leblanc, Verheyen and Cortier, The Jeune Peinture Belge collective - Van Lint, Bertrand, Bonnet – as well as loners such as Philippe Morel, the hermit of Ghent. The heavy, solid work of Bram Bogart (who, like Lohaus, is not a native of the city) which bears a surprising resemblance to the spiritual near-nothingness of Van Severen and Van Doorslaer. The New Vision: Raveel, Elias. How does one approach a rebel like Roobjee, or the subtle, elusive De Keyser? The latter can be linked to Marthe Wéry, 70 years old and still very spry, whose paintings are as consistent as ever without losing their fresh and exploratory qualities. Two youths and a coat of arms (with 1971 inscribed on it) standing on a bridge over the E5 motorway; a hyperrealistic painting by Antoon De Clerck. The central nervous system of the museum: Broodthaers in the corridors downstairs, Panamarenko in the large exhibition hall at the front. The reflective work of Vercruysse and Vermeiren, the theatricality of Dujourie, the alchemy of Copers and the sharp, playful analyses of Geys and Van Kerckhoven. Individual worlds: De Cordier, Debaere, Jan Fabre. The razor-sharp, refreshing irony of Guillaume Bijl and Wim Delvoye. And then again the figure and the paint in Tuymans, Vandenberg, Delrue, Devriendt. Photography and film: Braeckman and Robijns. Finally ending in the digital revolution with Hans Op de Beeck and David Claerbout. A entire hall is filled with the work of 20 artists. The work of the others are combined, sometimes naturally, sometimes surprisingly.
The museum offers a reflection of itself, with an overview of the Belgian art it has acquired over the years up to the present day. Consequently, this exhibition not only presents us with a picture of Belgian art over the last 50 years, but also of the museum and its collection, of the vision and choices of its curator, Jan Hoet, and of the members of the Vereniging (Friends of the Museum) who paved the way for the start of the Museum of Contemporary Art in 1975. We take stock of the situation, we look back in time, but it is not for nothing that this is a museum of contemporary art. The exhibition is both retrospective and overview, but is also an opportunity to place a new emphasis on things, to reinterpret now, today, the recent history of Belgian art and of the collection, to look, interpret, combine and present work in a new way. This exhibition is not an overview of ‘the’ history of Belgian art, but, as the title suggests, an exhibition ‘Like Life’. This is why new work continues to be made, for a collection is not a dead, completed entity. These new works supplement existing works, or are a mirror of tomorrow’s collection. Many artists such as Joëlle Tuerlinckx build up again their work in the museum’s collection with the greatest care. Gert Robijns places his site-specific Over the Edges installation, which is of course adapted to the context, in the museum, thereby bringing a small part of urban life into the museum itself.
A richly illustrated and well-documented catalogue is compiled specially for the exhibition in the form of a manual. Jan Hoet makes a deep and comprehensive analysis of the museum’s Belgian collection in the form of an interview. In addition to this a small individual dossier is compiled for each member of a select group of about 25 artists, involving the use of all sorts of visual material and records. The ‘manual’ does not claim to be a scholarly work in any way. Even more than in the exhibition, which is intended to give a broad view, in the catalogue we see a clear emphasis, a focus on certain choices and the expression of certain visions. Belgians in the Museum, foreigners in the city There is no past without a present; there is no inside without an outside. There is no Belgian art without international movements, influences from outside, and vice versa. On a parallel with Belgian art in the Museum, international art from the collection is exhibited at many different, mainly cultural locations in Ghent. This is not only a Museum of Contemporary Art, it is also a Municipal Museum. The whole history of S.M.A.K. and the Museum of Contemporary Art shows that the aim of the museum has never been to remain within its walls, and that it has always very actively sought to be a part of the city, the community and society; it is here that it functions and it is indeed for this that it was created. The international works of art – works by renowned artists, as well as works which have rarely been exhibited– appear here and there throughout the city. Giovanni Anselmo, Bruce Nauman, Jimmie Durham and Aïda Ruilova give shape to aggression in the Castle of the Counts. In the Design Museum we experience a balance between design and art – with a clear distinction made between the two – with items such as the tables by Mario Merz and works by Richard Artschwager, Jorge Pardo and John McCracken. Once again we see Merz – this time with the giant igloo construction - in the newly-opened grand concert hall at the Flemish Opera, in combination with a masterly installation of Gilberto Zorio’s Canoa and the remains of a renowned performance by the Fluxus artist Wolf Vostell. Work by Anselm Kieffer is on exhibition in the vestibule of the Town Hall, and that of Mariusz Kruk and Ulrich Rückriem in a church. In the shop windows of the Bourdon arcade we see Layered City by Urs Pfannenmüller and Bird by Edward Lipski, while the sound of Klaus Vom Bruch’s video-installation Das Ende des Jahrhunderts can be heard in the central hall. In the Huis van Alijn we aim for subtle interventions, with the work of artists such as Robert Gober, Mark Manders and Joe Scanlan. In the Public Library we have made the obvious choice of a word-image combination with Robert Barry, Elizabeth Ewart and Das Ende des Alfabetes van Martin Kippenberger. The Caermersklooster monastery offers us the use of its wonderful corridor for 67th Copper Cardinal by Carl André; interventions are also planned for the nearby Vredeshuis. The metaphorical machines by Thomas Hirschhorn and ManfreDu Schu are exhibited in the MIAT. All the locations in the city are situated within walking distance of the route of Tram 1, which runs like a thread through the exhibition sites. Situated on the north side of the area is the Dr. Guislain Museum, in whose attic a full exhibition will be held all summer, in addition to the interventions which will take place in its permanent collection. The works include installations by Mark Manders and Ricardo Brey, photos by Thomas Schütte and Homo Infinitus by Maurizio Elettrico. At the different locations there will be interesting interactions between modern works of art and the contexts in which they find themselves. In this way we hope to encourage exchanges between different audiences.