Inside the Centre for Fine Arts


Looking at 90 years of art exhibitions in Brussels

The Centre for Fine Arts, a palace of the arts. Immense and yet almost invisible, overlooking the city and yet buried underground, multiple and yet unified, prestigious and yet open to all...this was how Victor Horta imagined the first cultural centre of its kind to be constructed in Europe, the Brussels Centre for Fine Arts.

His ambitious project was designed to meet several challenges. A town planning one, first of all: linking the upper to the lower town. An architectural one: creating a building that would meet the needs of different disciplines while still preserving its own architectural cogency. An artistic challenge: to host all forms of art, at the highest level and in the best possible conditions. A cultural challenge, finally: to make art accessible to as many people as possible, free of elitism but without lowering standards.

This virtual presentation focuses on the Centre’s history in visual arts. Some of the most interesting information sources are preserved in its archives. Seven chapters focusing on the economic, political and cultural circumstances will contextualize the artistic choices and will guide you through the past of this cultural powerhouse.

Let’s run back in time and explore BOZAR’s history!

The Wonder Years
First Chapter: From 1928 to 1945

The Centre for Fine Arts opened its doors on May 4th, 1928. Here, Victor Horta traded the sinuous lines of art nouveau for the geometric design language of art deco, but the incidence of light in the exhibition rooms and the ingenious arrangement of the different spaces betray the hand of the master. In his memoirs, Horta referred to the Centre as a high point in his career.

All forms of art come together at the CFA.
Horta pieced together a jigsaw combining three concert halls, exhibition spaces, and lecture rooms in one harmonious whole.

Exposition Bourdelle, 1928

Over a 200 sculptural works were presented in Brussels for the opening event that took place in presence of the Royal Family. Emile Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1921) was at that time the second most famous French sculptor after Auguste Rodin.

Exposition Bourdelle, 1928

Bourdelle's statues could be admired in the rooms M1-M2-M3, G1-G2-G3, X2-X1-HX1-HX2, H1-H2-HT and the Marble Hall.

Find those rooms on this nearly 100 year old map!

L’Art Russe, 1928

This was one of the first exhibitions at the CFA. It focused on ancient and modern Russian art. For Belgians it was a unique occasion to admire some of Russia’s greatest art works during the communist reign in Russia.

There were some anonymous icons and works by Gontcharova, Gritchenko, Iacovleff, Levitzky, Borovikovski, etc.

James Ensor, 1929

The attention on national art was important in those early days. James Ensor (1860-1949) was a Belgian expressionist painter. In 1929, he had a solo exhibition, one of the first Belgian painters ever to do so. More of his work was shown in 1941, 1958, 1975, 1979 and 2005.

On February 10th 1929, during the exhibition, the Ensor Dinner took place in the Sculpture Gallery of the Centre for Fine Arts. For the occasion he invited all the important artistic personalities of that time for a dinner. Eventually, over 400 people were present.

Art Vivant en Europe, 1931

A total of 650 paintings and sculptures were exposed in a panorama on European art from the beginning of the 19th century.

The show was organized by l'Art Vivant and the Société des Expositions, Paul Gustave Van Hecke was the curator.

Ossip Zadkine, 1933

Allthough the economic crisis of the late twenties left its mark, the Centre still looked over the country's borders with the exhibition devoted to the cubist sculptor Ossip Zadkine. It welcomed 2.723 paying visitors.

L'Impressionisme, 1935

With this exhibtion the CFA oriented itself even more on an international level and this appeared to be a huge succes. The show attracted over a 20.000 visitors.
In this room the painting d'Où venons-nous? Que sommes-nous? Où allons-nous? by Paul Gauguin takes a very central place.
Visitors could admire the work sitting in the art deco armchairs.

Jean Brusselmans, 1935

Besides focusing on some well known French painters, the artistic direction offered the public a view on the carreer of Belgian artists. In 1935 the Belgian 'fauvist' Jean Brusselmans had a retrospective.

General Motors, 1936

The American multinational company 'General Motors' was founded in 1908. Ten years after the opening of the Antwerp plant in 1925, about twenty cars could be admired in the Marble Hall.

The Second World War at the Centre for Fine Arts
Second chapter - From 1940 to 1945

Das Deutsche Buch, 1942

The Centre was used by the German occupier more than once for lunches, exhibitions and even German fashion shows.

Even if every performance had to be submitted to the German Propaganda Department, the CFA remained buzzing with activity.

The basic policy was to put on as many art events as possible in all different art disciplines. New organizations also sowed the seeds of post-war cultural life.

German Fashion Show, 1941

During this show one can see clearly how World War II introduced a new simplicity in women's clothing. A classic style emerged. Shoulder pads became popular to highlight the masculine feminine look.

Philantrophic Evenings, 1944

During such a benefit event, cultural activities were set up to support and help the Belgian population.

The liberation of Brussels in September 1944

The liberation of Europe in the summer of 1945 threw open the borders, physically but also intellectually and artistically.

Between 1945 and 1958 Brussels discovered the world. Major, internationally oriented exhibitions followed one another quickly. Great Belgian painters still received attention and publicity.

Peace and Art
Third chapter - From 1945 to 1958

Constant Permeke, 1947

Constant Permeke (1886-1952) was one of the first Belgian painters who had a show at CFA after the Second World War. He became one of the most famous representatives of Belgian expressionism.

In 2012 BOZAR organized a major retrospective.

Le Siècle de Bourgogne, 1951

The public could admire masterpieces from the Bourgondian Age (1384-1482). One of the most famous paintings of that periode was the Mystic Lamb, painted by Jan van Eyck.

It was added at this show from November 2nd.

René Magritte, 1954

At the time of his retrospective in 1954, Magritte was one of Belgium's greatest living surrealist painters. In those years he had an international breakthrough which gave him the unique status he has today.

Shortly after this show at the CFA, 20 paintings by Magritte were presented in the exhibition Le Fantastique dans l'art belge de Bosch à Magritte, which was Belgium's contribution at the Venice Biennal of that same year.

René Magritte, 1954

In this catalogue there is an overview of his oeuvre uptill 1954.

One of the last and most famous works it mentions is L'Empire des Lumières, (1954), that sets up a fantastic element: the paradoxical combination of day and night.

The 'Magritte clouds' that illustrate the cover represent his oeuvre. This pattern is often used today to refer to the Master.

Oscar Jespers, 1954

Oscar Jespers (1887-1970) was a Belgian sculptor. Art critic Emile Langui called him an 'integral expressionist'. For this show, 133 pieces were exposed.

L'Europe Humaniste, 1955

Here is the cover of a special edition of the weekly 'Les Beaux-Arts' dedicated to the exhibition l'Europe Humaniste.

This show coincided with the adoption of the European Cultural Convention in 1954, a very important moment in the history of the CFA. The cultural convention wanted to promote culture, language and heritage; to stimulate mutual understanding and to protect peace on the continent. This exhibition wanted to illustrate this ambition.

Look at the magazine's cover. Can you guess the title of this artwork?

Fernand Léger, 1956

The cubist painter Fernand Léger died in 1955. One year later, the CFA had the honour to organize his most important show. It revealed the splendour of his work and creativity.

La Nouvelle Peinture Americaine, 1958

In 1958 the public had the first opportunity to discover the painters of the American avant-garde in Brussels.

Seventeen of them were represented: Pollock, Gorky, De Kooning, Rothko, Still, Tomlins, Baziotes, Motherwell, Sam Francis, Tworkow, Gotlieb, Barnett Newman, Brooks, Kline, Guston, Harigan and Stamos.

Brussels opens up to the world
Fourth chapter - From 1958 to 1968

World Exhibition in Brussels, April-September 1958

In the shadow of the ‘Exposition Internationale de Bruxelles 1958’, that took place in ‘Palais 2’ of the current Brussels Expo-site (where the Atomium is located now), the CFA hosted the World Festival, an artistic showcase of 20 exhibitions and more than 50 concerts.

The interest for other non-European and modern American cultures grew in the following years.

50 Ans d'Art Moderne, 1958

This exhibition was the Belgian contribution to the Expo '58 and was organized at the current Brussels Expo site. Two directors of the CFA, Robert Giron and Emile Langui, were members of the Executive Committee.

Some extraordinary masterpieces by Munch, Malevich, Dali, Hopper, Kokoschka, Lipchitz, Picasso, ... were shown to the Belgian public for the first time after the Second World War.

Victor Vasarely, 1960

Victor Vasarely (1906-1997) was one of the foremost representatives of Op art in Europe and the United States in the 1960s.

Here you can see him in front of one of his works, at his personal exhibition in 1960.

Popart, Nouveau Realisme, etc, 1965

A few years after the World Exhibition in 1958, the art public discovered 'Pop Art'. The work of yet unknown artists such as Andy Warhol and Roy Lichtenstein was introduced to a European public.

Pop Art, Nouveau Realisme, etc, 1965

The show was travelling through Europe that year and was a huge succes. After stops in Den Haag and Berlin, it opened in Brussels on Februari 6th 1965.

Some of the artists were: Francis Bacon, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Marcel Duchamp, David Hockney, Vic Gentils, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein, Robert Rauschenberg, Man Ray, Jean Tinguely, Andy Warhol, ...

Robert Motherwell, 1966

The American artist Robert Motherwell represents abstract expressionism. This major retrospective showed a 103 paintings, collages and drawings. In this room one can see a part of the series Elegy to the Spanish Republic.

Protest and Occupation

In May 1968 a series of student occupation and protests were held against capitalism, consumerism and traditional institutions, values and orders.

The uprising began in Paris, France. Soon workers joined students and it spread all over Europe. In Brussels, the Centre for Fine Arts was one of the institutions that became a place of protest.

Artists such as Marcel Broodthaers, Roger Somville and Serge Creuz participated intensly in the debates. 'We have chosen the centre' they said, 'as a symbolic location and the only place we can get our voices heard.'

Homage indeed to the institution's reputation at the time!

Total chaos reigned during the occupation. For weeks the contestants organised a forum in the hall. Fatigue and summer heat brought the occupation to an end without serious incidents.

But the protest action was not without consequences.

A contemporary shift
Fifth Chapter: from 1972 to 1996

The 1968 protest action was not without consequences. The Managament decided to convert the Marble Hall into a permanent activities and debating area.

New and unique initiatives came up, like the Europalia Festival. Artistically there was a shift towards contemporary art, both nationally as internationally oriented.

Animation Hall, 1972

By 1972 architects Baucher, Draps and Libois had radically converted Horta's gallery into a public plaza with steps for people to sit on. At its official opening on March 22nd 1972 it was renamed the Animation Hall.

The change of name represents a major overhaul and reflects lessons learned from its brief occupation in May 1968.

The Animation Hall was the official response to the changing ideas of the public. It became a public space for concerts, exhibitions, animation and recreation until the mid-nineties (1996).

12X1, Europalia France, 1975

Work of Daniel Buren was shown at the opening of the Europalia France Festival in 1975.

The CFA has a strong link with the French artist Daniel Buren (°1938) who puts the ‘place of creation’ as a quintessential element in his work.

Belgique-Pays-Bas: Convergences et parallèles dans l'art depuis 1945 | België-Nederland: Knooppunten en parallellen in de kunst na 1945, 1974

Un Jardin d'Hiver was a conceptual installation by the Belgian poet Marcel Broodthaers. The palmgarden with folding chairs and the illustrations of a wildlife publication, was part of a group exhibition. It was organized two years before he died in 1976.

Broodthaers had a very strong connection with the CFA. His work was shown many times at the Centre. As visitor, an artist or a guide and even an activist, his presence marked the history of the Centre.

Gerhard Richter, 1976

Gerhard Richter (°1932) is a contemporary artist, known for his ‘picture realism’. An overview of his work from 1962 untill 1975 was exposed.

Au Coeur du Maelstrom|In de Maelstroom, 1986

This was the Exposition d'Adieu that was set up for K.J. Geirlandt, director of the 'Association for Exhibitions' from 1974 until 1986. There were contributions by Chantal Akerman, Jacques Charlier, Lili Dujouri, Walter Swennen, James Coleman, aso.

For this occasion, Charles Van den Hove made an installation dedicated to the American sculptor Sol Lewitt.


In ‘BREA-KD-OWN’, Fareed Armaly declares the Animation Hall for sale. The removal of the space-frame (the metallic structure installed in 1972) makes way for a new form of public space.

Under Fareed's influence, a new architectural approach emerged at the CFA.

David Hockney, 1992

In 1992, the Centre organizes a retrospective around the very famous British artist David Hockney.

Hockney was not very fond of attending openings and press conferences, which made his presence quite exceptional.

Wide White Space, 1994

This work by Daniel Buren was exhibited at the exhibition about the famous Antwerp art gallery 'Wide White Space'.

The exhibition was an artistic overview of contemporary artists that had been invited at the gallery over the years. A lot of them were shown at the CFA as well: A.R. Penck, Andy Warhol, Marcel Broodthaers, Joseph Beuys, James Lee Byars, Carl Andre, ...

Wide White Space, 1994

The 'works in situ', created by Buren always consist of white and colored vertical stripes 8.7 cm wide each.

This installation was integrated in the Rotonde Bertouille.

Horta's come back: a transition period
Sixth chapter: from 1996 to 2002

1996, back to Horta's spirit

The Horta retrospective during Europalia 1996 provided an excellent opportunity to rediscover this Art Déco masterpiece. It was then that the Centre’s owner, the Régie des Bâtiments|Regie der Gebouwen, decided to direct future renovation work to the restoration of the building in its original form. The first stage in the process was the restoration of the Marble Hall or Animation Hall, renamed Horta Hall a few years later. A major study into the use of colour and materials in the Centre was undertaken and supplemented as work advanced.

Andy Warhol. A Factory, 1999

This was the first overview of Warhol's work that focused on all the expressive form's of his work. In the summer of 1999, a real Warhol-happening took place in Brussels that was very succesfull. 125.000 people came to visit the exhibition.

Look, 100 Years of Contemporary Art, 2000

The Two staggered two-way-mirror half-cylinder (2000) by Dan Graham was shown on the exhibition curated by Thierry de Duve. He offered a new vision of artistic modernity, which reinterprets the past to have a better look on contemporary art. He took the visitor into the twenty-first century and combined it with the rich legacy of the twentieth century.

82.250 people came to visit this exhibtion on contemporary art.

Marcel Broodthaers, 2001

Marcel Broodthaers came back to the Centre for the last time in 2001. On of the works was A photographic canvas with M.B. seen from behind, writing up 'Le Corbeau et le Renard', made in 1968.

The exhibition appeared to be a big success, unfortunately the catalogue illustrating the show was never published.

ROSAS XX, 2003

This exhibition was put together for the 20th anniversary of the international dance company Rosas and sheds light on its universe.

It was one of the first multidisciplinary productions at the Centre for Fine Arts. It was also the first exhibition that offered the visitor a glimpse of what an exchange between dance, music, new media and visual art could look like.

What is BOZAR today ?
Last chapter: from 2003 to nowadays

Henry Le Boeuf, founding father of the CFA

In 2003 the Centre for Fine Arts launched a new attractive cultural brand, 'BOZAR'. One year earlier a new legal structure had been installed, enabling a fully integrated artistic policy. Exactly like it was in 1928 when Henry Le Boeuf opened its doors.

The brand name BOZAR became known as a cultural label.

Since 2002 international activities have increased considerably and the artistic projects crossed the border as far as Africa, Asia, North and Latin America. BOZAR became an important European player and opted resolutely for the international scene.

Venus Unveiled, Titian's venus of Urbino, 2003

This exhibition became a kind of protoype for BOZAR, an 'embryo'.

Titian's famous masterpiece was at the heart of the exhibition and was presented in a circuit that included some 70 works, mainly Italian, interspersed with multimedia montages.

Venus Unveiled, Titian's venus of Urbino, 2003

Italian writer and scholar Umberto Eco (1938-2016) gave BOZAR the idea for “the museum with only one painting”. Eco was the curator of this exhibition.

The Centre was then able to play its role as a 'living metamorphosing museum' to the full.

Revolution.Restauration: Raqs Media Collective, 2004

In the spring of 2003, the artistic direction offered curators, artists, philosophers and urban planners the empty rooms that had housed the art auctions until then.

The Wherehouse Project focused on the hot topics of the 21rst century: migration, political and economic flight, illegality, citizenship and so on.

Karel Appel. On the Road. A Journey through Art in the Low Countries by Rudi Fuchs, 2004

At this exhibition, the public could admire works by Van Dyck, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Gogh, Ensor and Brusselmans.

Visionary Belgium, 2005

Visionary Belgium was an exhibition that marked the 175th anniversary of Belgium. It was curated by Harald Szeemann, who sketched out a very personal and non-orthodox image of Belgium’s culture and history, from 1830 to our time. His tragic death a few days before the opening prevented him from personally presenting his finished work.

Visionary Belgium, 2005

This happening was a tribute to the original work of the Belgian painter James Ensor Christ’s Entry into Brussels in 1889, (1889). During the exhibition of 1929, visitors have had their first-ever opportunity to admire this masterpiece, but in 2005 this was no longer an option. The monumental painting left Belgium in 1987 for the J. Paul Getty Museum. It never returned ever since.

Yearning for Beauty. The Wiener Werkstätte and the Palais Stoclet, 2006

The fascinating history of the Wiener Werkstätte movement was illustrated in this beautifully designed exhibition.

The Wiener Werkstätte presented a collection of objects from daily life as works of art such as furniture, ceramics, glass, books, posters, postcards, carpets, jewelry, fashion, and print design.

Tejas. Eternal Energy. 1500 years of Indian Art, 2006

The exhibition 'Tejas' explored all aspects of India's cosmic energy through some 200 stone sculptures and bronzes that left India for the first time. 'Tejas' was part of the India Festival that offered music, dance, cinema, theatre in the autumn of 2006.

Passages, 2007

'Passages' was another exhibtion that was a part of the India Festival. Rather than being an exhibition in the narrow meaning of this word, it was an opportunity to create encounters between the exhibited works and the architecture of the CFA. It focused on contemporary Indian artists.

Blicke auf Europa, 2007

In this exhibition about 150 masterpieces were selected, ranging from Classicism to Romanticism and Realism. It showed how German painters examined very different themes from European history and literature, how they travelled throughout Europe and ultimately how they influenced other countries with their artistic ideas.

Paul Klee. Everywhere Theatre, 2008

The exhibition was a monography about the Swiss artist, commissioned by the renowned conductor and composer Pierre Boulez. 64.000 people came to visit the CFA on this occasion.

The State of Things. Brussels/Beijing, 2009

This show was set up for the Europalia Festival. Curators Ai Wei Wei and Luc Tuymans focused on the Chinese and Belgian 'art market' and made a subjective selection from the art on offer in their own countries. More then 110.000 visitors showed up during the festival.

Frida Kahlo y su mundo, 2010

In this exhibition consisting of 19 paintings, an etching, six drawings, and a number of photographs one could witness Kahlo's brilliant contribution to the symbolist and surrealist movements.

It appeared to be a huge succes with 118.000 people that came to visit.

El Greco. Domenikos Theotokopoulos 1900, 2010

The exhibition focused on the spectacular rediscovery of the painter El Greco and presents a fascinating overview of the painter’s artistic development via a unique selection of outstanding works, including the stunning 'The Disrobing of Christ' and the striking 'The Tears of Saint Peter'.

103.000 people attended the exhibition.

GEO-graphics. A Map of Art Practices in Africa, past and present, 2010

GEO-graphics was the main exhibition of the festival 'Visionary Africa'. it set out to recontextualise more than 220 objects of breathtaking beauty from the Museum and from other Belgian public and private collections by bringing them face to face with the work of contemporary African artists. David Adjaye was the curator.

Jeff Wall.The Crooked Path, 2011

Jeff Wall (°1946) is famous for his large photographic compositions in light boxes. He presented a fascinating exhibition displaying his photographs along with the photographs of other artists.

Here one can see the work Storyteller (1986).

Neo Rauch. The Obsession of the Demiurge. Selected Works 1993-2012, 2013

The CFA presented the first exhibition in Belgium of work by Neo Rauch, an internationally popular artist and a key pioneer of the Neue Leipziger Schule.

Michael Borremans. As sweet as it gets, 2014

Michael Borremans is a Belgian painter and filmmaker who lives and works in Ghent.In this video he explains how his exhibition is being made.

Michael Borremans. As sweet as it gets, 2014

The painting technique of Michael Borremens draws on 18th cent art. Recently, he has been using photographs as a basis for his paintings.

With 144.000 visitors, it was the most attended exhibition in BOZAR's history.

Sensation and Sensuality. Rubens and his time, 2015

Rubens inspired artists all over the world for many centuries to come. In this show one could rediscover the works of this genius that have withstood the test of time as well as that of his heirs.

75.000 people came to see the work of the old master.

Mekhitar Garabedian, 2015

Garabedian’s family (°1977) history and migrant origins inspire him in his work. He uses them as a starting point to explore how identity develops in a society which has been and still is increasingly shaped by migration. With sound, neon, photography, text, video and in publications the artist shows us that identity is always in a state of flux.

Credits: Story

Thank you for visiting our virtual exhibit. To plan your visit at BOZAR, find all needed information on our website, For more research in our archives:

Every effort has been made to trace copyright holders. If, however, you feel that you have inadvertently been overlooked, please contact the publishers.

Exhibit-curator: Veerle Soens, Centre for Fine Arts

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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