All group visits in S.M.A.K. were cancelled due to COVID-19 until the end of June 2020, so the guides were also out of work. Though we don't forget them: they remain born and fascinating storytellers, whether in the museum hall or this way.
The bee is still there
"Thursday 12 March, 4 pm.
‘We’ve seen that dead bee before’, one of the ladies called out to me. She was part of a group of fifty-somethings from Limburg who were visiting the Van Eyck exhibition in the morning and who, after a late lunch, wanted to round off their day in Ghent with a visit to S.M.A.K.. Although their once-in-a-lifetime experience at the MSK was already behind them, they were still looking forward to seeing Kris Martin’s Exit, they said. To catch their breath for a moment, to relish the day, to chill. Guiding them through the rooms was a pleasure for me too.
‘And of course, you still remember where you saw the bee?’ I responded. ‘Uhhh’,… ‘Have you forgotten? In the cathedral next to the Ghent Altarpiece during the Jan Hoet exhibition,’ an older lady prompted her friend. Of course, now she remembered. She had encountered the artwork at Sint-Jan (‘Saint Jan’), the exhibition at St. Bavo’s Cathedral in which Jan Hoet celebrated his return to Ghent. It was during late spring in 2012. That year, Track also encircled the city like a ring of contemporary art. These were artistic high days in Ghent. The Van Eyck year – 2020 – was supposed to be another highpoint. We hoped. We hope.
Back then, the golden bee lay with its legs in the air on a ledge in the protective box surrounding the Ghent Altarpiece. At the time, I’d felt it was so insignificant and yet profoundly revealing. Van Eyck’s altarpiece illustrated the ultimate salvation of all mankind. Kris Martin confronted this Christian message of redemption with an ecological dystopia. Because this golden cast of a dead bee represents a global disaster. If the bees die out, then we will all perish.
In 2012, the artist did not place the bee on the shelf himself. Living abroad at the time, he entrusted this important task to his five-year-old son. ‘And literally’, Kris Martin proudly recounts, ‘he had placed the art object in the best possible position, barely a centimetre from the golden ratio. The work of an untroubled mind, right?’ For Exit, however, the artist has taken the curation into his own hands. Bee, the smallest work in the retrospective exhibition, was afforded an entire room to itself. In a darkened space, behind an invisible glass wall, perfectly lit. Ominously beautiful. ‘Do you know, sometimes I am prophetic,’ the artist said. ‘The 2009 work became more meaningful after its creation. The extinction of bees is an acute problem. In my garden, I pollinate my plants myself, to the delight of passers-by, by the way,’ he added.
Thursday 12 March, 5.30 pm.
SMAK closes its doors. I say goodbye to the ladies from Limburg. The lockdown of the museum is imminent. Bewildered, we stay behind. As if we had been struck down by the Ghent Altarpiece, as the saying goes.
Tuesday 19 May, 9.30 am.
SMAK is finally open again. The bee is still there. And we’ll soon be back again, as well."
Hilde Proot is a city and museum guide. For some time she was a lecturer at the course 'Gids & Reisleider' at Perspectief.
We hope to be able to allow group visits again from 1 July 2020, but this is subject to what the National Security Council will decide. Through this link you will find all the information.