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Must-see exhibitions in Belgium over the holiday season

Dieric Bouts exhibition at M Leuven
12:12 22/12/2023

If art has long been a salve for the soul, this is especially important in winter. During dark days, seek out illumination at this selection of exhibitions from around the country.


Modern and contemporary art


Biennial arts festival Europalia is drawing slowly to a close, but flagship exhibition The Avant-Garde in Georgia (1900-1936) remains open for a couple more weeks. This focus on a largely overlooked chapter in modern art in Europe is a revelation. Capital Tbilisi witnessed a flourishing creative scene during this turbulent period; artists combined Georgian traditions, such as polyphony, with Eastern and Western art practices, with the movement extending to theatre, poetry and film. Until 14 January, Bozar, Rue Ravenstein 23


In a similar vein, touring exhibition In the Eye of the Storm: Modernism in Ukraine 1900-1930s attests to the quality and creativity of a generation of avant-garde artists. They were part of an artistic renaissance in Ukraine that reflected their resilience. The 60 works were carefully transported out of the war-torn country to save them from potential damage and exhibit them across Europe. Until 29 January, Royal Museum of Fine Arts, Rue de la Régence 3


Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies, a major figure in post-war modern art, would have turned 100 this year. This major retrospective was a key part of the Spanish EU presidency’s extensive cultural programme. With more than 120 paintings, drawings and sculptures, it’s a rare opportunity to appreciate the full scale of his art, in which trademark symbols, such as the recurring cross are accompanied by an interest in spirituality. Until 7 January, Rue Ravenstein 23


Discover new and exciting artists residing in Belgium in the exhibition ArtContest 2023. Ten young contemporary creatives have been selected for the national competition that serves as a springboard for emerging talent. The under-35s are provided with long-term support as part of a philosophy focused on aiding their artistic evolution and encouraging an art practice that reflects today’s society. Until 4 February, Botanique, Rue Royale 236


After representing Flanders for the Belgian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2022, Francis Alÿs presents a new and more comprehensive version of the exhibition, The Nature of the Game. Importantly, it documents children playing in public places around the world. It’s also the first time that the Belgian-born, Mexico-based multidisciplinary artist returns to the contemporary art centre after his retrospective 12 years ago. Until 7 January, Avenue Van Volxem (Forest)


From the smallest droplet to the largest ocean, Water explores the ever-changing states of this life-giving substance. In the Art Deco setting of the museum, complete with (watery) pool, installations, videos, sculptures and paintings from big name modern and contemporary artists include Belgium’s Léon Spilliaert and Jean-Michel Folon. Find out how political water can become – for example when glaciers melt or water dries up – but also how beautiful it is, through gleaming droplets, overhanging umbrellas and deep blue ceramic waves. Until 10 March, Villa Empain, Avenue Franklin Roosevelt 67 (Ixelles) 


Some students blossom in art school but Lionel Vinche was not one of them. Born in the 1930s and still working today, he rebelled against the teaching at his art school and learned his craft by haunting museums and galleries. The Blan Foundation is hosting a retrospective of the Belgian artist’s multidisciplinary work, with an animated style that is as delightful today as it was confounding 50 years ago. Until 27 January, Boulevard Général Jacques 26 (Ixelles)


What was previously a comparison between Belgian and Korean comics has now expanded to become the EU-Korean Comic Strips Exhibition, putting graphics novelists from here and there next to each other. As the title Pop the Bubbles, Blur the Boundaries suggests, there are more similarities in style, content and sensibilities than there are differences. Until 29 December, Korean Cultural Center, Rue de la Regence 4


Belgium’s most famous comic strip characters are honoured in Tintin/Kuifje, The Immersive Adventure. The digital experience offers children and adults the opportunity to immerse themselves in the world of the boy reporter, created by Belgian artist Hergé. From the first edition, Tintin in the Land of the Soviets, in 1929, to the most recent publications, follow the quiffed hero on his travels around the world accompanied by a family of characters, from Snowy and Captain Haddock to a host of villains. Until 7 January, Tour & Taxis, Shed 3, Avenue du Port 86C



Louis Herman De Koninck’s 1930s CUBEX kitchens are iconic in Belgium – simple, square units to hold all your pots and pans. But this efficient rigidity reinforced stereotypical familial roles, keeping women firmly attached to their cupboards. Unworlding CUBEX turns this on its head. The wooden cubes are dispersed across the room to make a “multidirectional, collective kitchen”, that lets other people take part, says designer Anna Puigjaner. Until 28 April, CIVA, Rue de l’Ermitage 55 (Ixelles) 


The pioneering designer and architect was responsible for many of Brussels’ outstanding houses and public buildings, from the Hôtel Tassel to his own home and studio, now the Horta Museum. Victor Horta and the Grammar of Art Nouveau guides visitors through his architectural approach via archive documents, photographs, plans, original sketches and models. The exhibition in Horta-designed Bozar also focuses on the social context of his work during the avant-garde period. Until 14 January, Rue Ravenstein 23


Closing the Year of Art Nouveau in style is this major exhibition by the Austrian architect and designer responsible for Brussels’ mythical Stoclet Palace. Jozef Hoffmann: Falling for Beauty is a timely retrospective of the multi-talented artist and artisan, focusing on the timeless beauty of his designs with displays of furniture, objects, designs, textiles and documents presented in some of the newly-renovated spaces of the Art & History Museum. Until 14 April, Cinquantenaire Park 10



Power connects questions around energy and politics via a variety of exhibits from Willy van der Meeren’s radical 1970s energy conscious student housing for the VUB to Bas Smet’s ‘microclimatic’ plan for Notre-Dame. “From oil and gas pipelines to domestic radiators, wind turbines to recycling hubs, infrastructure is central to today’s energy transformation debates,” says curator Nikolaus Hirsch.  Until 25 February, CIVA, Rue de l’Ermitage 55 (Ixelles) 


“Migrants are systematically photographed when they arrive – mugshots, merciless, vivid, a snapshot of pain without a name.” These words by Spanish painter Gonzalo Orquin are all you need to understand Being Human, an exhibition featuring portraits of migrants entering Europe via the main immigration routes. The exhibition is part of Spain’s cultural agenda during its presidency of the Council of the European Union during the latter half of 2023. Until 15 February, MigratieMuseumMigration, Rue des Ateliers 17 (Molenbeek)


Artists Richard Mosse and Daisy Ginsberg showcase climate change in an extraordinary video installation and series of large-format photographs. Winners of the European Commission art innovation initiative, STARTS Prize 2023, the Irish-British duo’s works, Our Impact on Ecosystems, include Broken Spectre (pictured); a highly personal and dramatic video experience for visitors. Until 21 January, Bozar, Rue Ravenstein 23


The 125th anniversary of the extraordinary scientific expedition aboard the Belgica – the first to winter in Antarctica – enables the King Baudouin Foundation to explore the climate crisis. Looking for… The End of the World also celebrates the pioneering trip led by Belgian naval officer Adrien de Gerlache and his international crew with photos, objects, specimens and atmospheric sounds conveying their hardship. Today, the ice is melting as air and sea temperatures rise and the free exhibition encourages individuals to make sustainable choices. Until 4 February, BELvue Museum, Place des Palais 7


Mons mem museum

Mons Memorial Museum honours contemporary local artist Didier Mahieu in La Laine et l’eau that references the material of soldiers’ uniforms that would become dangerously waterlogged when they disembarked by the sea. His work is also relevant for its exploration of the notion of memory in sculpture, paintings and installation. A new sculpture by Mahieu has been inaugurated at the roundabout of the nearby Saint-Symphorien military cemetery. Until 14 April, Boulevard Dolez 51, Mons


Brussels-based French artist Lionel Estève presents The Seasons, a large sculptural  installation that unfolds in two rooms of this contemporary arts museum. The first section fluctuates between climate and light; the second is monumental and alternates between hot and cold temperatures. Together, they expose the contrasting worlds of dry and humid environment. Until 17 March, MACS Grand Hornu, Rue Sainte-Louise 82, Hornu


Aimed at drawing a wider public, the city of Charleroi’s winter exhibition Le sport, tout en art also has the ambition of showing that sport is an artistic subject in its own right. In the first section, visitors can discover how different artists from a variety of countries have attempted to capture sporting moments. In the second, the focus is on a range of sporting disciplines and the city’s champions in particular.  Until 21 April, Musée des Beaux-Arts, Charleroi



In the second major exhibition of the year for Namur’s Le Pavillon, Capture#2 offers a snapshot of Belgian artistic and digital creation. Some 20 artists exploring two tenets: how machines ‘capture’ the world and how to evoke Man’s destruction of nature. Maxime Van Roy’s installation Née (pictured) is contemplative with its plastic reproduction of water droplets driven by motors. Run by the KIKK festival organisers, the space specialises in new or digital art and occupies the futuristic former Milan world expo building located atop the historic citadel. Until 14 January, Esplanade de la Citadelle, Namur



Flanders’ four biggest institutes of contemporary art – SMAK, Mu.ZEE, M HKA and M Leuven – agreed to loan their top pieces to Z33 in Hasselt for the exhibition This is Us. This greatest hits show brings together works by nearly 50 artists, half of whom live and work in Belgium. It is the cornerstone of a project made up of three exhibitions that, in their own way, explore the concept of arts and museums as learning environments. Until 18 February, Bonnefantenstraat 1, Hasselt


Bill Viola

The pioneering American video artist presents 18 extraordinary installations from 1992 to 2014 in Bill Viola. Sculptor of Time. In the first major exhibition of his work to be staged in Belgium, visitors embark on an immersive, meditative and highly-personal journey. As the title suggests, Viola carves out time with his video works while also shaping and transforming the space they occupy. Until 28 April, Parc de la Boverie, Liège


Sadly forever topical, this exhibition focuses on human rights through the lens of comic strip. Enjeux Humains presents 100 works by the international Cartooning for Peace network. With humour, insolence, emotion and sometimes seriousness, the show depicts the world's news by well-known European press cartoonists. They include Belgians, Kroll (pictured), Cost, Lectrr, Cécile Bertrand, Marec and Vadot. Until 28 January, Place Xavier-Neujean 22, Liège



Some of the world’s most famous artists, fashion designers and choreographers lead visitors through Echo: Wrapped in Memory at Antwerp’s fashion museum. The exhibition reflects on the intimate connection between clothing and memory through the lens of three artists whose work is intensely emotional: Louise Bourgeois (pictured), Simone Rocha and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Until 25 February, MoMu, Nationalestraat 28, Antwerp


Saving you from traveling to dozens of museums, churches and libraries, the MAS in Antwerp presents Rare and Indispensable: Masterpieces from Flemish Collections. It brings together some 100 works of art by Belgian and international masters such as James Ensor, Francis Bacon, Peter Paul Rubens, Jacob Jordaens and Michelangelo. All of the works are protected under the Flemish Masterpiece List, which means they can never be sold outside of the region. Until 25 February, MAS Museum, Hanzestedenplaats 1


Collecting art is usually driven less by investment than by dedication and enthusiasm. This is the message behind Passion: Delightful 16th- and 17th-century Works from Private Collections, on show at the historical Snijders & Rockox House. It once belonged to Nicolaas Rockox, a 17th-century mayor of Antwerp and avid art collector. The exhibition is an ode to today’s collectors who – like Rockox – are fans of Renaissance and Baroque works of art and want to ensure that they are preserved for future generations. Until 31 March, Keizerstraat 10, Antwerp



The Grid. Trame. Grille. Matrice is an original exhibitions with its premise that the grid is an artistic form in its own right. Curator Alexander Streitberger focuses on the period 1960 to 1980 when it became a source of inspiration rather than an artistic tool dating from the Renaissance. This exhibition at Louvain-la-Neuve’s university museum is a journey into geometric abstraction, op art, minimal art, performance and digital arts. With works by Carl Andre, Max Bill, Sherrie Levine, Sol LeWitt, Verena Loewenberg, Vera Molnár, François Morellet and Rosemarie Trockel.  Until 11 February, Musée L, Place des Sciences 3, Louvain-la-Neuve



This major international exhibition is dedicated to one of the greatest Flemish Renaissance artists, Dieric Bouts, who spent almost his entire life in the famous university city.  Dieric Bouts. Creator of images brings together a large number of works that are also placed in comparison with today’s visual culture. It opens a new perspective on work that is more than 500  years old. The confrontation continues in the city’s Saint Peter’s Church; Bouts Last Supper masterpiece has moved to M, while US conceptual artist Jill Magid presents an in-situ work in the church. Until 14 January M Leuven Museum, Leopold Vanderkelenstraat 28, Leuven



The Dr Guislain Museum is home to outsider art, which includes work created by people in psychiatric institutions and living on the margins of society. Untitled is an homage to the work in which they simply give a visual form to their lives and preoccupations. The lack of unifying theme reminds us that themes are the invention of curators, not of artists. Until 4 February, Jozef Guislainstraat 43, Ghent


An exquisite collection of works has been brought together for Among Friends, an exhibition devoted to all of the private donations Ghent’s Fine Arts Museum has amassed since it opened 125 years ago. The museum has also borrowed works from private collectors, honouring the legacy of co-operation between the museum and benefactors. Among the paintings, sculptures and drawings are works by Pierre Alechinsky, Karel Appel, Raoul De Keyser, Fernand Khnopff (pictured), Auguste Rodin and Peter Paul Rubens. Until 28 April, Fernand Scribedreef 1, Ghent

Photos: (main image) campaign image for Diereic Bouts exhibition; Niko Pirosmani Banquet des_quatre citadins Musee national de Georgie, Bozar; Aalexandra Exter Three female figures National art_museum of Ukraine; Tapies blue with four red stripes; Art Contest Estelle Deschamp and Mathieu Simon einsturzende neubauten; Francis Alys, Childrens game Step on a crack Hong Kong in collaboration with Felix Blume, Julien Devaux and Rafael Ortega; Villa Empain Fondation Boghossian Celine Pages Christine Marchal; Courtesy Blan Foundation; Simonemarcolin maio civa; Victor Horta Max Hallet house Brussels 1903 (c) Maxime Delvaux; Bas Smets Notre dame Paris; Being Human (c) Gonzalo Orquin; Maxime van Roy nuee, Capture2 Kikk; This is us Marlene Dumas blind joy (c) m hka; Bill Viola Foundation; Kroll Belgique; Echo mumbling beauty Louise Bourgeois (c) Alex van Gelder; Rare works (c) City of Antwerp; Passion courtesy Rockoxhuis; Dieric Bouts; Dr Guislain  (c)estate of Karlo Kacharava; U ntitled Bonifaci bros (c)stichting collectie de stadshof

Written by Sarah Crew and Lisa Bradshaw