An important part of the renovation involved building new museum halls within the walls of the historical museum. Thanks to this infill, the museum gains an additional 40% of space to display its collection. What will we display in the new halls? Find out in this article.

Shortage of space

The museum, which opened in 1890, already faces a shortage of space by 1910 due to the growth of the collection and a new vision on presentation. This is addressed in the 1920s. The long, continuous galleries on the ground floor and the inner gardens are converted into exhibition rooms.

After the renovation of 1925-1926, successive museum directors maintain an active acquisition policy. Moreover, the museum is often the recipient of (large) donations. No need to paint a picture. Although each floor of the museum is about the size of a football pitch, lack of space remains one of the main problems. By building contemporary halls inside the museum, KAAN Architecten is now increasing the exhibition space by the much-needed 40%.

Watershed year 1880

Behind the scenes, curators, collection managers and audience engagement team are thinking about how to divide the collection between the historical and new halls. The museum's collection shows a watershed moment in 1880. That is a good starting point.

After 1880, art is expressive, abstract or conceptual. Artists do not show what a cow looks like, for example, they choose what the essence of a cow is for them. Depending on the style and temperament of the artist, this can be a completely different aspect. The artists are abandoning the narrative art of the pre-1880s, the art with gods, kings and noblemen in the leading role. Art no longer contributes to a religious feeling or holds up a mirror to guide you to the right moral choices. Artists work less and less on assignment for popes, princes or wealthy citizens. They create work for specific exhibitions or salons.

Light Hall
The Man in the Chair, - Henri De Braekeleer
The Sixteenth of September - René Magritte, © Succession René Magritte - SABAM Belgium, 2021
The Adoration of the Shepherds - Jacob Jordaens I

Three themes

It soon became clear that this idiosyncratic art, with its many successive styles and movements, would best fit into the pristine white spaces designed by KAAN Architecten. We have grouped this new art into three major themes: colour, form and light. One of these aspects dominates each of the artworks displayed in the Light, Form and Colour Halls. In the Light Hall, The Man in the Chair by Henri De Braekeleer is bathing in a stream of soft daylight, while Magritte's The Sixteenth of September shows the mysterious light of the moon. Composition by Jozef Peeters is a representative painting for the Form Hall, and Otto Piene's vibrant Great Sun does justice to the term 'colour'.

The power of colour of Otto Piene...
... in the powerful setting of the Colour Hall.

Were only artists from after 1880 occupied with colour, light or form? Of course not. By adding an old master here and there to the presentation, we are colouring outside the lines of our own concept. But we do prove that artists throughout the ages often struggled with the same questions, such as: how can I represent as well as possible what I see in my imagination? Henri Changenet, for example, turned his Lamentation of Christ from the early 16th century into a true play with shapes. And Jacob Jordaens built his composition for Adoration of the Shepherds around an invisible but all-important source of light. Both works will therefore be displayed in the Form and Light Halls respectively. The reverse is also true in the galleries dedicated to the old masters.

Composition by Jozef Peeters, an obvious representative of forms
Centuries earlier, Henri Changenet was also working on this, in a different way.

James Ensor and Rik Wouters

For the KMSKA collection, James Ensor represents the link between art from before 1880 and after. He himself evolved from more narrative painting to wilder experiments. Moreover, we boast the largest collection of Ensor paintings in the world. Therefore, Ensor deservedly is getting his own halls for his work in the new volumes.

We are also bringing together the many works of Rik Wouters in the same space. A wide selection of paintings and sculptures will be housed together in the Colour and Form Halls.

This is where the works by Rik Wouters will be displayed
Woman in White - Rik Wouters

More modern than classical

Before the renovation, our museum temple fostered the perception that it was primarily a museum of old masters. Looking at our collection, however, it turns out that nothing could be further from the truth. 22% of the works of art in our collection was made before 1800. The majority of the museum's collection was therefore painted, drawn and sculpted in the 19th (36%) and 20th centuries (42%). In the new halls, we can finally show this vital mainstay of our collection in its full glory. For us too, filling the halls is an exciting task. After all, they did not exist before the renovation. How will the works of art thrive in this environment?

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