Design for a Museum of the Present
WIELS in Brussels Celebrates Its Tenth Anniversary

One of Europe’s most important exhibition venues does not have its own collection. But this didn’t prevent WIELS in Brussels from dreaming of a museum on its tenth anniversary. The Absent Museum is the title of a show that imagines what the missing museum collection might be like. Many of the artists whose works are on view are linked with the history of the art center, which was founded in 2007, and have already exhibited in the former brewery building. But WIELS does not only view itself as a platform for groundbreaking, often interdisciplinary exhibition projects. With a total of nine studios, it is also a place of artistic production. One of the museum’s partners is Deutsche Bank, and the “Artist of the Year” exhibitions of Wangechi Mutu and Yto Barrada were hown here.

The anniversary exhibition shows how vital WIELS is. It encompasses 340 works by 47 international artists, including Francis Alÿs, Marlene Dumas, Ellen Gallagher, Isa Genzken, Thomas Hirschhorn, Wolfgang Tillmans, Rosemarie Trockel, and Luc Tuymans, all of whom are represented in the Deutsche Bank Collection. The exhibition focuses on the art center in Brussels as well as the question of what a museum as a place of collective memory has to achieve today: political and social criticism, as well as historical reappraisal. Thus, Marcel Broodthaers had to be included in the exhibition. Broodthaers, a leading figure of the 1960s European avant-garde, founded the Musée d’Art Moderne, Département des Aigles in his Brussels studio as a place to host discussions about the role of art in a changing society, a kind of spiritual predecessor of WIELS. The show also honors the German painter Felix Nussbaum. Paintings the artist made during his exile in Brussels are on exhibit. Nussbaum’s escape from the Nazis is addressed in “1943,” a text work by Francis Alÿs that explores the completely different living situations of European artists at the end of World War II, be it Nussbaum, Piet Mondrian, Leni Riefenstahl, or Camille Claudel.

The Absent Museum shows that the upheavals and horrors of history still have an impact today. Ellen Gallagher created a kind of black Atlantis. In a bizarre underwater world, slaves who were sick and thrown overboard during transports from Africa to the New World live on as submarine creatures. In his photo montages, Sammy Baloji juxtaposes pictures of forced laborers in the Belgian Congo with current views of brownfields and slag heaps there—the exploitation of people and the Earth continues even after the end of the colonial period. With these contributions, the exhibition shows one thing above all: in a museum for contemporary art, an investigation of history is always an examination of the present.   

The Absent Museum
Until 8/13/2017
WIELS Contemporary Art Center, Brussels