Museums are said to be the cathedrals of the twenty first century. The role of the main patron of arts passed from the Church to the State and from the State to private investors—public funds being scarcer and scarcer—during the first decade of this new century. Since we are no longer an industrial society but one based on services, among which tourism seems to be rather promising in this old and picturesque Europe, a new museum arises as one of the compulsory attractions of any tourist destination. My question is: can there really be an open-air museum, if it is considered an art temple? Can you feel the ineffable joy of art in the middle of nature? Go to the Middleheim sculpture museum on the outskirts of Antwerp and you will see that the park suits perfectly the aspiration to freedom of every single sculpture.
The huge collection of twentieth century sculpture was assembled in Middleheim park from 1951 thanks to the tenacity of Lode Craeybeckx, the longest serving mayor of Antwerp. The park itself is remarkable from a botanic point of view with ample lawns and plenty of rhododendrons under fully grown trees.
The sculpture collection contains some of my favourites of all times. First and foremost, the smooth polar bear immortalized by François Pompon in 1925 which granted the senventy-year-old sculptor his first indisputable success after a whole life sculpting. “The crazy virgin” by Rik Wouters, already commented in this blog, is located at the entrance of the park. Nearby, one of the best sculptures of the beginning of the twentieth century, “the Archer” by Emile-Antoine Bourdelle, exemplifies the choice for the classic cannon while the vanguards of the day were denying any kind of naturalism. Other keeper of the classic cannon, Aristide Maillol, is also represented with his “Mediterranean” and his lying female figure “the River”. The list of sculptures could fill hundreds of entries—there are 215 in the park. They all need the clear space of the park to breath and the always changing weather of Antwerp to show us every day a different facet. The entry to the open-air museum is free.
Credit images © Ruskin in Brussels