Impressions from my weekend trip to the city of Antwerp (19-21 November 2021).
Today I’d like to share with you some thoughts and impressions from my weekend trip to the amazing city of Antwerp (Dutch Antwerpen, French Anvers) in Flanders, Belgium. I’m a big fan of this place, for Antwerp has it all: culture (LOTS!), visual arts (in the veins), fashion (wow!), diversity (the epitome), history (monumental). You name it, Antwerp has got you covered.
Flanders has it in its DNA, Antwerp in particular: vibrancy and creative effervescence. Without the slightest doubt, Antwerp is a breeding ground for art and culture. Because it’s got the DNA of the Flemish artists and collectors.
My relationship with Antwerp
I’ve been to Antwerp countless times as a teenager and an adult. I recall the days my husband and I walked up and down its streets in search of the perfect wedding dress and rings. And Antwerp didn’t disappoint us: we found the best designer for my bridal gown and the right jeweller for our wedding rings. So, yes, I’m happy to admit it: I’m attached to Antwerp. And I’ll always be.
This time I was invited by The Phoebus Foundation to participate in an international conference on archaeological textiles from Egypt, where I used to be an active member and co-author of an outstanding publication on so-called Coptic textiles (if you’d like to find out more about this topic hit About). It was lovely to see my friends – researchers and textile collectors from Belgium and to revisit some of the places I love in Antwerp, where I always find art inspiration and a lot of joy.
I’m not going to write here either about the stunning Rubens House (Flemish Rubenshuis) because this palazzetto in the heart of Antwerp is too well-known and richly documented, or about the largest Belgian chocolate museum in the world (which is called Chocolate Nation and is definitely worth a visit, by the way). I prefer to take you to the outskirts of Antwerp and introduce you to a not-so-well-known jewel.
The Middelheim Museum
Here’s a glance into the Middelheim Museum, a place where art and nature interact, flow into each other, and reciprocally transform themselves in a myriad of ways. In the Middelheim Museum’s so-called Art Park, modern and contemporary sculptures populate a 30-hectare forest. Water and various types of trees, bushes, flowers, birds, and insects engage in a perpetual exchange with beautiful man-made artworks.
In this enchanted forest, the distinction between art and nature becomes superfluous. In other words, you cannot tell where nature ends and art begins. Yes, in the Middelheim Museum you cannot simply differentiate between nature and art. This vast sculpture park offers you a unique experience of a different reality that comes to view when works of art and nature complement and mirror each other in a never-ending flow.
Let’s take, for instance, Philippe Van Snick’s Poetry (Dutch Poëzie) from 2012. This subtle, site-specific artwork offers you an extraordinary visual experience of form and colour. And beyond that, it brings you to a new dimension of space, where the artwork embraces the space in which it is, and the space, that is the surrounding nature, becomes the artwork itself. Scroll the photo gallery below, and you'll see what I mean.
Another beautiful example of art-nature collaboration is Félix Roulin’s Column (French Coulonne) from 1975. This work questions your perception of the world around you and takes you beyond the immediate reality. It strengthens the relationship between art and nature as it renders impossible the clear distinction between the one and the other.
Have a look at Jesus Rafael Soto’s Double Progression in Green and White from 1969. It appears to move, creating thus an optical vibration, which makes me think of the blades of grass. The artist made this work of steel bars but, by painting them in green and white, he managed to dematerialise and transform them into a piece of nature. Or into something immaterial.
While strolling through the Art Park, I discovered a faithful expression of the current times of anguish, unrest, and alienation: Young girl running, a sculpture by the Czech artist Kurt Gebauer from 1976, that is more than a decade before the Fall of the Iron Curtain.
Where is this girl running to? And what is she running away from? History runs an inifinite loop ... Nature silently witnesses it. And renews itself.
How does the present look to me? Pretty much like Antony Gormley’s Firmament III from 2009, another meaningful work of art from the Middelheim Museum in Antwerp that invites us to “think about our place in the bigger order of things”, and our role and contribution to the world.
The only thing we actually need to do is have the courage to leap without fearing death 😊 Like Carl Milles’ Bellerophon on the winged horse Pegasus from 1949.
Seeing like an artist is, among other things that I wrote about in a previous blog post, seeing reality from a personal angle and multiple viewpoints. It is per se anticonformist and unconventional. Perspective is relative. And the perception of space, too. Because "we don't all see the same thing" (David Hockney). Reality is a matter of inner perception.
Have you also been to Antwerp? What did you like most?
Thank you for reading till the end.
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From Germany with love,