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Fear of merger sends shockwaves through the Antwerp art world: ‘Isn’t this unthinkable?’ & More Latest News Here


Will there be no new museum for contemporary art in Antwerp, but a merger between the museum for fine arts (KMSKA) and that for contemporary art (M HKA)? The united Antwerp artists and galleries fear the worst and say they are ‘perplexed’. “This is unthinkable, isn’t it?”

Danny Ilegems

The balloon was already released at the beginning of this summer: Flemish Minister-President Jan Jambon (N-VA), also Minister of Culture, is thought to have forced the Antwerp museums of fine arts (KMSKA) and contemporary art (M HKA) to work together. or even merge. The Ostend Mu.zee, the other museum of the Flemish community, would also be involved in those plans.

With the warm weather, the idea doesn’t seem to have evaporated, but has matured further. It is even feared that the Flemish government will abort the plans for a new building for the M HKA, which are provided for in the coalition agreement. This new museum for contemporary art should be built on the Waalse Kaai in Antwerp South, where the Court of Appeal once sat. However, the first architectural competition ended with a sizzle.

A ‘restart’ of the construction file was announced at the end of last year. Will the restart be a terminal station? In any case, Antwerp’s contemporary artists, art centers and galleries are so concerned that they have organized a petition against the merger plans, with which they are publicized. All the big names have signed: from Zeno X and Tim Van Laere to Luc Tuymans and Rinus Van de Velde. The art world says it is ‘perplexed’.

“The new line of thinking of the Flemish Community is disturbing the visual arts sector”, it says. “It indicates a creeping bureaucratization and not a dynamic policy in which the two institutions (KMSKA and M HKA) can go their own way.”

And also: “Galleries know from experience that the frenetic merging of institutions produces an end result that is neither fish nor meat, so that the target groups for which these associations have been set up no longer feel addressed.”

“This is unthinkable!” says Adriaan Raemdonck, the driving force behind De Zwarte Panter gallery and chairman of the BUP, the professional association of Belgian gallerists. “Precisely at a time when the arts in Antwerp are doing extremely well. The KMSKA finally reopens, only galleries and artists are added, and there is an unprecedented vitality and cross-pollination, also with other branches of culture. Our wealth is our diversity, our diversity. And precisely now one would like to bring old, modern and current art under one body, from which everything is determined. In the Flemish government people like to talk about identity. Well, this is about that. The art world in Antwerp is a sum of identities, always has been, and today more than ever.”

“I just want to look at it practically for once,” says Luc Tuymans from Mallorca, where an exhibition by his wife Carla Arocha will open this week. “If two or three museums have to be run from one institution, that institution will be hopelessly overloaded. While most museums are already severely understaffed. And where are we going to stay with the gigantic collection of the M HKA, more than 14,000 works? And what are we going to do with it? Organize one or two contemporary exhibitions a year in a few rooms of the KMSKA? You can only create worst-case scenarios with that merger idea.”

Bart De Baere, director of the M HKA, sees a positive story rather: people are thinking about where to go with the Flemish museums. But a merger doesn’t seem like a good idea to him either. “The strategic memorandum of the Flemish government on cultural heritage discusses this differently, as it states that KMSKA and M HKA are certainly part of the group of cultural heritage institutions. Okay, politicians can change their mind. Of course we have to work together, try to fertilize and strengthen each other. But you don’t need a merger for that, do you? If the opera has held a successful performance in the Sportpaleis, you don’t say afterwards: those two can merge perfectly?”

“That’s the same as forcing me to work with an antique dealer,” says gallery owner Sofie Van de Velde. “I’ve done that in the past: very nice, but it didn’t lead to anything, for neither of us. Ancient art and contemporary art: these are different worlds, different audiences, different workings, different everything.”

Olivier Van Raemdonck, the spokesman for Prime Minister Jambon, admits that the reflection exercise is underway. “We note that the three museums for which Flanders is responsible, KMSKA, M HKA and Mu.zee, are doing an excellent job, but all three are also struggling with budgetary constraints. Like anyone with ambition, they sometimes ask for more resources to realize those ambitions. So yes, in the cabinet of Culture we ask ourselves: could we achieve efficiency gains, for everyone, by having those institutions work together? Provided that their artistic individuality and identity are not compromised.”

A consultancy company has made an in-depth analysis and put a number of possible scenarios on the table: from separate forms of cooperation to mergers. “But nothing has been decided yet,” emphasizes Van Raemdonck. “In the autumn we will have discussions about this with the management boards involved.” The rumor that Jambon would announce in his September statement that there will be no new construction for the M HKA is dismissed as empty.

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