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A cultural walk around any city will guide you toward that city’s major historical landmarks and art institutions.
And while Antwerp in Belgium has plenty of those – MAS (Museum aan de Stroom, above), the Rubenshuis, the Cathedral of Our Lady, and the Museum of Fine Arts, to name a few – we’d like to turn our focus on the smaller-scale contemporary culture must-sees the Flemish city has to offer.
What started as a single-room contemporary art gallery in Antwerp’s hip Zuid neighbourhood about twenty years ago, grew into a gallery of European renown, representing such artists as Kati Heck, Franz West, Jonathan Meese and Rinus Van De Velde.
Soon enough, Tim Van Laere was in need of a larger space, but he patiently waited until the time was right to design and build a new free-standing gallery that would fully reflect what he stood for. In 2019, he opened a minimal building designed by Office KGDVS in Antwerp’s recently developed Nieuw Zuid neighbourhood. Conceived as a collection of 5 concrete blocks of different sizes, it’s located near the river Scheldt.
Apart from gallery spaces, the new Tim Van Laere Gallery also comprises a sculpture garden and a roof terrace. It’s a totally different experience from visiting the former townhouse gallery in a built-up, residential area. Here, a kind of future Antwerp can be glimpsed: sustainable, low-impact, spacious and meaningful.
Hidden in a small street in Antwerp’s historical centre, where a convent used to be, gallerist Veerle Wenes founded a design gallery that’s known for exploring the fusion between art, design and architecture.
Through architecture, Wenes has transformed the old building - which also includes a listed chapel – through the use of white walls and staircases opening up to various volumes, without completely erasing the structure’s history.
She also resides there, masterfully merging the great design she champions with her own life, displaying its practical uses. From the colourful Muller Van Severen chairs to Scholten & Baijings homeware and Octave Vandeweghe’s faceted tools referencing prehistoric objects, this is a place were any aesthetics obsessive will find interior design gratification.
If you exit Antwerp southward, via the expressway, a large modernist building looms large: deSingel, an arts site for international theatre, dance, music and architecture designed by the renowned Antwerp-born architect Léon Stynen.
Here, the four art disciplines have cohabited in harmony since 1980. In 2007, the architecture was expanded by Stéphane Beel. Now comprising a mid-sized concert hall, a large hall for theatre and dance, an exhibition space, a music studio and a theatre studio, deSingel is an example of how a building evolves along with the city’s cultural scene’s needs, without losing track of its programmatic aesthetics.
In a park of over 600 years old, Antwerp boasts an open-air sculpture museum that features site-specific contemporary works by Robbrecht & Daem, Ai Weiwei, and Richard Deacon, as well as works of sculpture spanning a century.
It became an art institution only under mayor Lode Craeybeckx, who, in 1950 decided to turn the public park into a permanent open-air museum for sculpture.
Some works are in the permanent collection, some are part of temporary exhibitions – the program changes often – but the strength of the Museum lies in the soothing greenery that stimulates contemplation.
But there’s more to it, too. In this sculpture park, one is allowed to organize a picnic, play badminton, walk one’s dog or make a snowman. This mix of old and new, of art and life, reflects the dynamism of Antwerp as a city with superior quality of life, and a breath of cultural goings-on to discover.
The fabulous boutique Hotel Julien, with its mansion-house pedigree in the heartlands of old-town Antwerp, is a self-confessed curator of the arts, designer pieces, antiques and mid-century furnishings, which adorn the handsome salons and rooms in comfy elegance.