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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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, ...
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.
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).
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.
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.
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, ...
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.
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.
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
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.
During this co-production with Europalia International, the Centre was 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.
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' 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you for visiting our virtual exhibit. To plan your visit at BOZAR, find all needed information on our website, www.bozar.be. For more research in our archives: https://archives.bozar.be.
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