Belgian Antedote to the Broad Museum…I mean McMuseum

Today, the art world has gone the way of corporatization (duh!) with art fairs popping up in trendy international destinations, museums reflecting an international aesthetic rather than a local perspective, and curators and artists as interchangeable as stores in shopping malls (every contemporary museum worth its $20 admission price seems to have a Andy Warhol, Joseph Beuys, Damien Hirst, Richard Prince, etc.). Maybe it’s too late to change the tide, but then again, maybe it’s not.

Two weeks ago my trip to the Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Brussels, Belgium, (official website) represented an alternative vision of a museum and its mission and pleasures. Unlike the McMuseums of today, the gallery reflects a local artistic culture that developed over hundreds of years (it’s chocked full of Hieronymus Bosches, has a WHOLE ROOM of Brueghels, packed to the rafters with Jacob Jordaens, oozing with Peter Paul Rubens, etc).

Even the modern collection reflects the styles of painting preferred by Belgians, particularly its homegrown love of Surrealism (Rene Magritte and Paul Delvaux), and other quirky talents (including Fernand Khnopff and James Ensor).

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean for museums to stubbornly protect their “nativist” art and prop it up alongside Picassos even if they don’t deserve it. In Belgium, the native art tradition is strong and varied enough that it didn’t feel like much of an effort to allocate a greater slice of the museum space pie to Belgian artists while seamless weaving them into the broader sweep of art history. Bravo Brussels!

If museums don’t find a way to recapture their soul, they are going to become become as exciting as the ubiquitous shopping mall. The alternative is the fiasco that has happened at the LACMA with its new Eli Broad wing (or as the LA Times renames it the Gagosian Contemporary Art Museum) which proves that with deep pockets and no local sensitivity any city can create global media buzz around any new McMuseum. Whether this trend will last the test of time is anyone’s guess.

Here are some images of the lovely animals I found amidst the dizzying splendor of the Royal Museum of Fine Art’s amazing collection of paintings.

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Seems like I’m not the only one questioning the insanity of today’s museum culture, check out:

2 responses to “Belgian Antedote to the Broad Museum…I mean McMuseum”

  1. Belgium’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts is probably my favorite museum I’ve ever visited, for this very reason. The day the Belgians start trading their Flemish masters and Khnopffs for Warhols is the day I’d curl up fetal and start sobbing into my sleeves….

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