Antwerp’s Middelheim Museum rearranges sculpture park by the end of 2023

At the end of 2023, the Middelheim Museum in Antwerp will look completely different. Many sculptures are given a new, well-considered place in the sculpture park, with better descriptions and signage. In the renewed presentation, extra attention is paid to the landscape elements and the special heritage value of the Middelheim site. 

There will also be a new publicly accessible open-air depot for sculptures that are temporarily not on display in the collection presentation. The works will start in September 2022 and will run until the end of 2023. The museum will remain open all the time.

Ambitious contemporary collection presentation

Founded in 1950, the Middelheim Museum collects, preserves and displays sculptures from ca. 1870 to today. Over the years, the museum has used the same approach for the presentation of the ever-growing collection. More than 70 years later, the world, society and the museum landscape look very different. A new collection presentation was called for.

“Museums have professionalized and internationalized, and today have a very different meaning and role. New sustainability goals and scientific insights have also led to a greater appreciation for the role of nature in human life. This prompted the Middelheim Museum to value its park environment as more than just the setting for the art collection, and to better open up that collection in a new contemporary presentation, with a clearer relationship between the value of the art collection and the unique landscape heritage value. of the Middelheim site”, says Nabilla Ait Daoud (N-VA), Alderman for Culture of the City of Antwerp.

Art and park reinforce each other

The Middelheim Museum strives to bring people, nature, art and heritage closer together. The renewed collection presentation is an important step in the realization of this vision.

“When it was founded in 1950, the Middelheim Museum’s ambition was to create ‘an encyclopedic collection of international sculpture’. But in a globalized society, that encyclopedic aspiration is obsolete. And museums have long ceased to be repositories where nothing ever changes. They are dynamic places where visitors experience the works of art from their own environment, in their personal way. That certainly also applies to our special museum, which is not only an art museum, but also a park”, explains Sara Weyns, director of the Middelheim Museum.

Movable, immovable and landscape heritage come together in the Middelheim Museum. This requires a continuous approach to change: the sculptures follow the rhythm of the nature that surrounds them. The conservation and management of the works of art must be continuously aligned with this. The unique park environment is not only the decor, but also forms a prominent part of the museum experience. That is why the new presentation now also pays attention to the valuable landscape elements of the park, in relation to the artworks.

Collection more accessible to the public

Thus, at the end of 2023, the museum will look completely different. Many works of art will be moved to another place in the art park by then and dozens of new sculptures will be given a new place for the first time: 169 works of art will be displayed in the new collection presentation, 103 works will be placed in the new open-air depot. 

Ultimately, more works will be accessible than the 249 currently displayed in the art park. Each art object also receives a new, updated description. This gives visitors a clear explanation of the meaning of the artwork, then and now: as a sculpture, in a group or as a whole. This way visitors can get acquainted with the works of art in a new way.

The collection is presented thematically. The starting point is the relationship between man and nature, in all its diversity.

In addition, the Middelheim Museum is developing a clear route with an explanation of the artworks, a clear museum map and signage to more easily guide visitors through the art park and an adapted public program.

The museum library is moving to the collection pavilion in the art park. The new location offers extra space for temporary presentations of objects from the support collections, such as drawings, small sculptures, designs and models. 

Public activities in the collection pavilion bring the collection even closer to the visitor.

The specific landscape atmospheres of the park zones will also be enhanced. Important green park elements are made more visible, but also better protected and the park as a whole must become more climate-robust for the future (e.g. by adjusting the mowing policy on the large lawns, softening where possible and planting new green volumes).

Car against a wall.

Sustainable diverse living together

Due to its hybrid character as a museum and park, the Middelheim Museum wants to contribute to a healthy urban living environment and thus assume its social role. Sustainable living together in diversity is a priority.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has made us realize that our well-being is closely linked to our society and to the environment in which we can live. In addition, awareness is growing about the consequences of global warming. These raise new questions about sustainable coexistence in diversity. This applies not only to people, but also to plants, animals, water and ecosystems”, says Alderman  Nabilla Ait Daoud.

“Due to the relatively early foundation of the museum in 1950, this diversity awareness was not yet strongly present in the Middelheim collection. While the dynamics in these relationships between man and nature are particularly tangible in our art park, and are currently being researched together with artists, the public and partners. We will therefore continue to develop our collection presentation and further adapt it to the natural elements of the park. In this way, as a museum, we can increase our social relevance and continue to connect with these important contemporary perspectives”, says director Weyns.

Renewed open-air depot

The first phase of the works starts soon with the construction of a new open-air depot. In this publicly accessible storage facility, consisting of several platforms, the museum will keep weatherproof outdoor sculptures that will be temporarily withdrawn from the presentation.

“Today, the Middelheim Museum is both an exhibition space and a warehouse. This means that the art park is somewhat full in some places, at the expense of the legibility of the art and the visibility of special park elements. We are developing this new open-air depot in order to exhibit fewer works at once in the future, to exchange some sculptures after a period or to temporarily store them for repair, and to allow the collection to grow further”, says Weyns.

Museum

The sculptures in the depot remain accessible to both visitors and researchers, without the images really being part of the temporary presentation. In this way the artistic coherence of the works presented in the art park remains intact. The open-air depot for outdoor sculptures is also sustainable: no energy efforts are required to air-condition the space. Also in the choice of materials, the soil hardening is kept to a minimum.

More green in the museum

The construction of the new open-air depot will also be accompanied by extensive green compensation. 87 small ornamental fruit trees that have reached the end of their life cycle will be replaced in the coming months by 54 high-quality tall trees. The historic oak avenue flanking the plot is also completed by planting six tall pedunculate oaks.

793 m2 of micro forest will also be added, with green buffers, hedges and 1,966 additional shrubs. In order to carry out all these works in phases and under the best conditions, the museum is working closely with the city of Antwerp’s Greenery Department, which is helping to support the entire project. Their vision on sustainable greenery for a resilient city helps guide the approach across the board.

Slow transformation

The works will start on 5 September 2022 and will run until December 2023.

Periods of intensive work (pruning, planting, restoration, transport…) alternate with quieter periods. Lapis Arte starts with the construction of the new open-air depot. 

The architects of studio MOTO and the landscape architect of Atelier voor groene ruimte are developing a new scenography and ensure an ideal match with the different landscapes. Together with Studio Dott, we provide new signage and wayfinding on the site.

“Transforming an art park takes time and patience. The effect of some changes such as planting is sometimes only visible in full glory years later. So the transformation starts out relatively small and slow, but consistent. The museum changes a little more every day”, cloncludes director Weyns.

In a later phase, the Middelheim Museum aims to develop a broader master plan and management plan for the entire site. Attention is also paid to the buildings, mobility to and within the museum, and the connection with the wider environment.

Art and museums in Antwerp

On the look of Antwerp

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