An Outdoor Museum Filled with Amazing Surprises : Middelheim Museum, Antwerp, Belgium
In the context of Sculpture Network’s 14th International Forum, I have been lucky enough to visit last month the Middleheim Museum of Antwerp, in Belgium. Although I knew this park had a rich collection of sculptures, I was far from imagining the scale of its size and its diversity.
Located less than 15 minutes by cab from downtown Antwerp, this English style park covers over 70 acres of large prairies, woods and meticulously landscaped spaces holding rare plant specimens. At the heart of this estate, a slightly old-fashioned but beautiful house offers a store and a café. But no exhibition space here, the museum is outside.
And indeed, amongst a collection of over 400 sculptures, approximately 200 are displayed outside. They are numerous. Very numerous! Maybe too numerous, because in some places, it becomes difficult to know where to look: they are calling us, all trying to catch our attention. But their proximity and their number make it impossible not to make a choice. Even in a fast paced three-hour visit, it is impossible to see them all.
The story starts in 1950. To permanently turn the page on World War II, Antwerp mayor Lode Craeybeckx organizes an outdoor sculpture exhibition. It was such a success that, following the suggestion of Franco-Russian sculptor Ossip Zadkine, he decided to create a space for a permanent exhibition, the Middleheim Museum. From 1950 to 1989, twenty sculpture biennials were held there with, for each edition, a guest country and a selection of mostly figurative works. In 1993, when Antwerp was named “cultural town of Europe”, the museum takes a new direction toward contemporary art by purchasing ten pieces by internationally renowned artists.
The collection is huge and gathers works by XXth century’s most famous sculptors. Rodin, Bourdelle, Maillol, Calder, Gilioli, Marino Marini, Etienne-Martin, Henry Laurens, George Rickey, Agustín Cardenas, Jesus Soto, Barbara Hepworth and so many others. A large part of the collection is dedicated to artists from Belgium and northern European countries. And, without a specific logic, come included contemporary artists: Chris Burden, Ai Weiwei, Antony Gormley, Franz West, Tony Cragg, Erwin Wurm, to name just a few.
Open Tuesday to Sunday, this open air museum is free, rich in surprises and certainly worth the visit.
tel. +32 3 298 27 70