“New contemporary art museum in Ghent by 2025”

Ghent's contemporary art museum, the S.M.A.K., is drawing on its own collection to present work by the Belgian visual artist Marcel Broodthaers, while the museum looks forward to a time when it will be able to share a greater part of its collection with the public.

A room dedicated to the work of the renowned 20th century Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers has just opened at Ghent's contemporary art museum, the S.M.A.K. The museum possesses the most important collection of the artist's work and is eager to share it with the public at large. This is why the museum has decided to create a permanent exhibition of the works of Broodthaers. In the future this space will also host talks and events connected to the artist. The works on display will vary from time to time as the museum draws on its impressive collection. But S.M.A.K would like to do more explains artistic director Philippe Van Cauteren:

“The S.M.A.K. possesses one of the most important collections of contemporary art in Belgium with an international significance: 2,800 works but in the present building only a small selection of the collection can be shown at one time. We would like to move to a situation in which 500 to 600 works are permanently on display.”

“We should be able to share the collection that we are holding in trust for the community at large. It has an important role to play in education and in bringing in tourists.”

Mr Van Cauteren argues that the building that currently houses the S.M.AK. no longer meets the demands of a contemporary art museum. The S.M.A.K. moved into its current premises in the Ghent Citadel Park in 1999. The building served as a venue for concerts and big events. It was renovated and turned into a museum but today lacks the facilities required of a modern art museum.

Philippe Van Cauteren: “There's no acclimatisation system. This is a big problem. Works are exposed to changes in the temperature that are detrimental to the museum's role of preserving our heritage for posterity. We managed to stage the recent landmark Gerhard Richter exhibition thanks to a number of technical interventions, but it's a big question whether we will be able to mount similar exhibitions in the present infrastructure in the future. Foreign lenders, collectors and museums, are setting ever more stringent demands in order to release works!”

Under the stewardship of Flemish Culture Minister Sven Gatz (Flemish liberal) great change is afoot in the Flemish contemporary art landscape. The Flemish community's contemporary art museum in Antwerp M HKA is getting a new building. Kanal is the name of the new contemporary art museum that is being created in the iconic former Citroën building in Brussels. Ghent has high hopes it too can make a great leap forward.

Philippe Van Cauteren: “Like most of the museums in Ghent the S.M.A.K. is a city museum, though there is also Flemish community funding. The city authorities commissioned a study to see how the needs of a present day contemporary art museum can be met at its present location. The study looked at all the options: pulling down the place, building a new museum, part renovation, total renovation and the incorporation of buildings that form part of this complex but are currently not used by the S.M.A.K. The matter is currently with the city cabinet and I am confident in the outcome!”

Artistic director Van Cauteren stresses the urgency of the project and has high hopes a totally revamped museum will be in place by 2025. Next year is a year of celebrations at S.M.A.K. when it marks its twentieth anniversary at the present site. For the first time the entire museum will be used to display works from the S.M.A.K.'s own collection. It's the first time it happens and will not be complete because some items simply cannot be displayed using the current infrastructure. For Philippe Van Cauteren next year's exhibition can only be a taste of what is to come.


With roots in the surrealist movement Marcel Broodthaers is arguably one of the most important and influential Belgian artists of the 20th century. He started as a poet but went on to produce films and visual art in which text often plays a role. He turned his own home into a museum and his works often focus on the role of the museum.

The Broodthaerskabinet or Broodthaers Cabinet at S.M.A.K. is entirely devoted to his work: books, posters, films, collages and other creations. It draws on the museum's impressive collection of the artist's work and will be a permanent feature at the museum. It's been created together with the artist's widow, Maria Gilissen-Broodthaers, and also provides a venue for talks and other events linked to the master.

The exhibition opens with Le Pense-Bête (photo below), a first art object that bridges Broodthaers' oeuvre as a poet and his figurative art: he used unsold copies of his poetry to create a work of paper, plaster, plastic and wood. Broodthaers was surprised that this work generated greater interest than the poems that he had used to create it.

The Broodthaerskabinet runs at S.M.A.K. in Ghent until 30.4.19. A catalogue featuring many of his works is available.

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