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Related: Belgian contemporary art


The oldest record about 'a town called Middelheim' dates back to 1342. The earliest known owner of the premises, with courtyard and farms, called Middelheem, is Laureys Van Aerschot de Jonghe (1399). During the 16th century and later, numerous Antwerp families had had their summer residences there. In the 18th century, the 'château' was transformed in the Louis XVI-style, probably using architectural drawings of the Paris architect B. Guimard. It has not been transformed significantly since.

In 1910, the City of Antwerp bought the entire property to prevent it from being subdivided and opened the park to the public. Later, in the 60's and 70's, some parts of the grounds were used to build the Middelheim Hospital, the Antwerp University and the Pastoral and Theological Centre.

In 1950, for the first time, the Middelheim park (20 ha) housed an international sculpture exhibition. After a proposal by Mayor Lode Craeybeckx, the municipal council decided to found a permanent open-air museum for sculpture. Today, fifty years later, we can enjoy a splendid collection of sculptures offering a selective overview of modern sculpture, among which works by Jean Arp, Emile Antoine Bourdelle, Alexander Calder, Pablo Gargallo, Barbara Hepworth, Floris and Oscar Jespers, Aristide Maillol, Giacomo Manzu, Henry Moore, Louise Nevelson, Reinhoud, Auguste Rodin, Jesus Rafael Soto, Rik Wouters, and Ossip Zadkine.

In 1971, at Middelheim-Hoog the Braem pavilion, designed by the Antwerp architect Renaat Braem, was inaugurated. Here, you can admire smaller sculptures and works from the collection that cannot be displayed in the open.

Every two years from 1951 onwards, during the summer months, the internationally renowned Biennial for Sculpture has been organised. The grounds of Middelheim-Laag at the other side of the Middelheim Park have been used since 1963 for the Biennials and exhibitions. In 1989, the 20th Biennial ended the series.

Since 1993, the year of Antwerp Cultural Capital, the museum has taken a new course, spending its budget to acquire contemporary art. The museum purchases works by internationally established contemporary artists. The notion 'open-air sculpture in a park' is interpreted as widely as possible, so that the museum can better follow current tendencies in the visual arts and to contribute to the further development of open-air sculpture.

Meanwhile, the collection was extended with works from Guillaume Bijl, Tony Cragg, Luciano Fabro, Per Kirkeby, Matt Mullican, Juan Muñoz, Panamarenko, Henk Visch, and Franz West. Just recently, the museum bought work by Jef Geys and Jessica Stockholder. In 2001 the purchase of a work by Carl Andre is also planned.

The year 2000 has been a turning point for Middelheim. 7 ha have extended the park to a total museum area of 27 ha. This new space offers the Middelheim museum the opportunity to rearrange the collection and to organise more temporary exhibitions.

In May 2000, the new depot at Middelheim-hoog, designed by the Bruges architect Stéphane Beel was opened.

In the future, the existing buildings on Middelheim-hoog will be renovated, and a new central reception hall, a new documentation centre, and a cafeteria; all designed by Beel, will be constructed. --http://museum.antwerpen.be/middelheimopenluchtmuseum/collectie_eng.html [Jul 2004]

Luc Deleu [...]

Luc Deleu has an interesting exposition at the lovely Middelheim open air museum;

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