Street art in Belgium often depicts comic-strip characters, such as Tintin. // © 2016 Melissa Karlin
Feature image (above): Mont des Arts is a historic art hub of Brussels, and visitors will find several art museums in the area. // © 2016 Melissa Karlin
The art world of Brussels is diverse and eclectic — much like the rest of Belgium — with a creative energy that is palpable. The city openly celebrates arts and culture, made apparent by the art-nouveau and comic-strip intersections throughout the city center. And though the institutional art world is already well-established in the destination, it is continually expanding across the city, opening new museums and showcasing world-class exhibitions. The current approaches and new developments of these institutions are firmly solidifying the city as a true art capital of Europe.
Comic Books and Art Nouveau
Art nouveau and comic books in Brussels seem to go hand in hand; both are woven into the fabric of the city. Walking along the streets of Brussels, visitors can’t help but run into well-preserved art-nouveau designs and large murals presenting some of Belgium’s most beloved comic-strip characters, including Tintin and the Smurfs.
In fact, there is a whole comic-strip route visitors can take in Brussels that follows 49 murals across the city. This route passes by some of the destination’s most famous sites, including the small bronze Manneken Pis fountain sculpture and Grand Place, the central square of Brussels. A guided tour of this route can be arranged for clients through Visit Brussels, the city’s tourism arm. There are also maps available on the bureau’s website and detailed information about each specific mural.
On this route, travelers will also encounter the Belgian Comic Strip Center. Here, two distinct styles of representation come together. The museum is located in the stunning Waucquez Warehouse, designed by Belgian architect Victor Horta, and features the history of comics as an art and also of Horta, art nouveau and the building’s background.
To dig deeper into this pioneering art-nouveau figure’s life, visitors can explore Horta’s former uptown home, which is now a museum. Here, they can encounter the stylistic movement inside one of its master’s personal projects, providing new layers of depth and a context to the flourishing aesthetic.
The Old Guard
The historic art hub of Brussels is located around the Mont des Arts, where Brussels’ downtown begins to ascend up. There are several institutions in this area, including the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, Musical Instruments Museum and Bozar Centre for Fine Arts. Bozar, in particular, has a few notable exhibitions in coming up in early 2016.
From Feb. 19 to May 22, conceptual artist Daniel Buren will respond to the question, “How can you exhibit works of art that are connected to the place they were created anywhere in the world?” Along with a film investigating this inquiry, there will also be a creative dialogue between the artist and past masters such as Paul Cezanne, Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse.
From Feb. 26 to May 29, the “A New Expression of Life, Art and Technology” exhibition will focus on Theo Van Doesburg, a Dutch artist and part founder of the De Stijl movement, also known as neoplasticism. It will present a survey of his career and influential visual language of abstraction. Also running during these dates is an exhibition of 80 black-and-white etchings from Rembrandt van Rijn. An app will complement this exhibition to provide a deeper investigation of the works.
New Institutional Developments
It seems as if there is a new-museum boom in Brussels right now. Not only did the new Train World open this past September, but there are also two new art institutions opening their doors, as well.
Art & Design Atomium Museum — opened in December — focuses on art and design from the 20th and 21st centuries. The name Atomium stems from its location near the Atomium, a structure originally built for the 1958 World’s Fair. Permanent exhibition “Plasticarium,” which features more than 2,000 items made of plastic, is a must see.
Opening in March, Millennium Iconoclast Museum of Art will perhaps pave the way for the future of institutional approaches to contemporary art in the digital age. Located inside the repurposed Bellevue breweries in the Molenbeek Canal District, the museum focuses on culture 2.0, the culture and artistic practices that are a result of how we engage with the Internet. This museum will present sub-cultural representations through music, visual media, transdisciplinary art movements and more, giving a voice to the often under-represented.
With so many new and exciting things happening in Brussels, this fantastic art-filled city may soon be taking its place alongside Paris and Berlin as one of Europe’s must-visit art centers.