'Collecting Friends' is fun at S.M.A.K.

Hurry, hurry, hurry. The exhibition 'Collecting Friends' at Ghent's contemporary art museum, the S.M.A.K., only runs until 18 February. The presentation is a must for anybody with a keen interest in the humour of art.

'Collecting Friends' showcases some of the highlights from the acquisitions made by the Friends of the S.M.A.K., an association that was instrumental in the establishment of the Ghent contemporary art museum. The exhibition celebrates 60 years of the Friends. The Friends set as their goal the creation of an independent contemporary art museum in Ghent and went to work collecting acquisitions that would later form the basis of the S.M.A.K. collection. Initially the contemporary art museum established by Jan Hoet in 1975 occupied several rooms in the nearby Fine Arts Museum before moving to a building of its own in 1999. It was also in this year that the Friends donated their entire collection to the S.MA.K. The works purchased in subsequent years are on long term loan to the museum.

Early acquisitions include 'Nuages en Pantalons', a painting by Pierre Alechinsky, the Belgian pioneer of the Cobra movement that brought together artists from Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark. Cobra combined abstract and figurative art an alternative to geometric abstractions. It drew its inspiration from drawings of children and the mentally ill. 'Nuages en Pantalons' is one of Alechinsky's few paintings in oils.

Enjoyable too is Jim Dine's 'Two Hearts – Opera' from 1970. Dine came to prominence with his 'combine paintings' that combine paint with real life objects.

Acquisitions of Friends of the S.M.A.K. include all the contemporary Flemish greats: Luc Tuymans, Michaël Borremans, Panamarenko and, of course, Marcel Broodthaers. Mind you do not trip over Broodthaers's 'Grande Casserole de Moules'. Broodthaers excels in the assemblage like this pot of mussels that apparently symbolises Belgium. Broodthaers plays with the words 'la moule', the mussel, and 'le moule', the mould. The mussels symbolise the female sex, while don't forget 'casserole' is the French word for 'prostitute'.

The exhibition also includes Flemings who will be more obscure to an international audience. Take sports journalist and painter Raoul De Keyser. The museum and its friends have taken a keen interest in his work over the years. A friend of Roger Raveel, he is seen as a pioneer of the 'New Vision' together with Elias and Lucassen. Thanks to Friends' acquisitions S.M.A.K. possesses many of his works. This work, 'Chalk Line Corner', is inspired by the lines on the corner of a football field. De Keyser enjoyed visiting his local pitch, especially when the lines were being freshened up by brush. The painter was fascinated by the fact that grass refuses to conform to the straight boundaries needed for a true straight line.

International highlights at 'Collecting Friends' include Andreas Slominski's 'Piano'. The German sculptor is keen to explore the usefulness of art. On its first presentation the 'Piano' was displayed in an abandoned industrial building. The only way to play the piano from the stool would have been to demolish the entire building. 'Piano' must always be displayed in a passageway that is too narrow to play the instrument. The passageway has to be widened using a sledgehammer. Rubble and dust created in this process form part of the artwork.

The Bulgarian-American sculptor, architect, installation artist and painter, Christo, is represented by a preliminary study for his first large scale projects in open space including the 'Wrapped Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago'. With 'Grand Empaquetage Noir' Christo is keen to explore the behaviour of cloth that is draped over angular objects. It is a return to a common motif in art history reminiscent of Tintoretto's Renaissance paintings.

'Collecting Friends' runs at Ghent's contemporary art museum, the S.M.A.K., until 18 February 2018.

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