Simply the best


A museum should be more than just its collection. This idea becomes abundantly clear when looking at the shortlist for the 2009 Museumprijs, or Museum Prize.


Belgium is awash in museums, but every year a select three rise above all others

A museum should be more than just its collection. This idea becomes abundantly clear when looking at the shortlist for the 2009 Museumprijs, or Museum Prize.

The list comprises five museums in each of the three regions – Flanders, Wallonia and Brussels – and represents a broad range of curatorial interests, from comic strips to fashion to fine art. At least one of the five in each region has to have fewer than five employees, giving a boost to the country’s smaller institutions.


The Flemish Five include the Design Museum and Fine Arts Museum in Ghent, the Fashion Museum and Rockoxhuis in Antwerp and the Kunstmuseum aan Zee in Ostend. The Ostend museum, a merging of the collections of the city and the province of West Flanders, just opened last month in the former location of the city’s Fine Arts Museum; no doubt it’s hoped that this nomination will give it a little publicity.


One museum from each region will be selected by a professional jury, taking into account the quality of permanent collections and temporary exhibitions but also factors like design of the museum, accessibility for particular groups and initiatives to broaden the museum’s public.


Each winner receives €10,000, with a public prize worth €2,500 voted on by visitors to the website. In addition, this year a panel of schoolchildren aged 8 to 10 will vote on the most child-friendly museum in their region, with a prize of €2,500. The public prizes are not limited to the shortlisted museums.


The Fine Arts Museum (MSK) in Ghent has a collection going back to the late Middle Ages and the beginning of the Northern Renaissance, with a “Man of Sorrows” by a pupil of the Master of Flémalle. There are two works by Hieronymous Bosch, some by Frans Pourbus the Elder and Pieter Breugel the Elder and a fine collection of Netherlandish Baroque paintings by the likes of Rubens, Van Dyck, Jordaens and Snijders. Other artists represented include Tintoretto, Géricault, Corot, Courbet, Rodin, Ensor, Max Ernst and Magritte.


The MSK is currently showing an exhibition of works by Emile Claus, the leading Belgian representative of Impressionism. The exhibition stresses Claus’ attraction to the rustic, bucolic and pastoral, and includes works by some contemporaries like Constant Permeke, Constantin Meunier and Henry van de Velde.


The Design Museum, also in Ghent, has a collection ranging from 17th-century furnishings to Art Nouveau by Horta and Serrurier-Bovy to Art Deco by Le Corbusier and Gaston Eysselinck. It continues with designs from the 1970s and 1980s, including furniture, glass and ceramics by designers from Belgium and abroad.


Known for its excellent temporary exhibitions, the museum currently hosts three: textiles dating from the 15th century; chairs and textile objects from Finland; and book designs by Henry van de Velde.


The collection of the ModeMuseum, or Fashion Museum, in Antwerp, meanwhile, includes clothing, lace, embroidery, fabrics and tools dating back to the 16th century, but it’s the contemporary collection of the famous Antwerp Six that anchor the museum and keep the crowds coming.


The Fashion Museum’s temporary exhibitions and the über-cool, glittery openings that accompany them, push it more towards the avant-garde then any of the other Flemish nominations. Right now, you’ll find Paper Fashion, focusing on the consumer-led craze for paper dresses in the 1960s.


The other Antwerp museum on the shortlist is also the obligatory small museum: the fantastically interesting Rockox House. Formerly the residence of Nicolaas Rockox, who bought two adjoining houses in 1603 and had them converted to a single residence, the property was acquired by the Artiestenfonds in 1949. It was bought by KBC Bank in 1970, which set up the Rockox Foundation.


Rockox was an alderman and mayor of Antwerp, an avid coin collector and a devoted patron of Rubens. He also had his portrait painted on more than one occasion by Anthony Van Dyck. He was a friend of philologist Justus Lipsius, jurist and philosopher Hugo Grotius and the celebrated printers Jan and Baltazar Moretus. The fabric and contents of the house have now been restored to present an authentic replica of a 17th century patrician residence.


Finally, the Museum aan Zee, or Mu.Zee, is the new museum for the joint collections of the province of West Flanders and the city of Ostend and includes work by many Belgian greats: James Ensor, Léon Spillaert, Constant Permeke, Paul Delvaux, Luc Tuymans and Jan Fabre. Check these pages next month for an in-depth look at the new museum.


Museums chosen in the Brussels Region are a diverse lot: the Stripmuseum; the Erasmus House in Anderlecht, the Horta Museum in Sint-Gillis, the Museum of Elsene and the BELvue Museum in the Royal Palace, which contains not only much royalty-related material but also gives access to former streets of Brussels now underground.


Finally, the list is Wallonia is made up of the Cominoise Centre of Ribbon-Making in Komen-Waasten, the Centre for Engraving and the Printed Image in La Louvière, the Viroin Regional Eco-museum in Treignes, the Photography Museum in Charleroi and the Prehistory Museum in Ivoz-Ramet.


Winners will be announced at a ceremony in Brussels’ Museum of Fine Arts on 13 May.


Have your say

Vote for your favourite museum in each of Belgium’s three regions. The winners all get cash prizes




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