For more than five decades, Antwerp art collector and art dealer Ronny Van de Velde has been organising pioneering and remarkable exhibition projects, which have made him one of Belgium's most important connoisseurs and defenders of a variety of artistic vanguards. His exhibitions included some of the greatest names of twentieth-century art: Marcel Duchamp, Man Ray, René Magritte, Joseph Beuys, Picabia, Alechinsky, Panamarenko... In a 5-part series of small-scale presentations, the M HKA seeks to evoke the history of the gallery he runs with his wife Jessy.
The ideal image of the artist as homo universalis - think of Leonardo da Vinci - disintegrated over the centuries and was brutally and definitively shattered by the advent of the train. The succession of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution left no trace of the old world: intuition or imagination had to give way to measurementism and reason.
Yet, in the course of the long nineteenth century, there were romantic spirits like Eugène Delacroix and Vincent van Gogh who pointed to a crisis of the soul, to the ennui and Weltschmerz from which this rational, modern man was suffering. Moreover, with the outbreak in 1914 of the first industrially waged war, scientific innovation literally and figuratively turned man against himself.
It is in this context that in 1917 Marcel Duchamp elevated a urinal to the status of artwork. With this act, he not only signalled the moral bankruptcy of the old bourgeois order but also immediately laid the foundation for a radical artistic renewal within which the disruptive power of the imagination was once again able to play a decisive role.
Ronny Van de Velde - collector and explorer of avant-gardes - also considered Duchamp a key figure throughout his entire life. This is why the pioneer of conceptual art was given a central place in this space among other 20th-century artists who followed in his footsteps to craft a radical art that permanently challenged the social status quo.
In this space, visitors can marvel at an eclectic presentation: from James Ensor and the nineteenth-century Zwans to Marcel Broodthaers, from Jules Schmalzigaug to Panamarenko, from Henri Van de Velde to Bruce Nauman.
In this exhibition, moreover, the distinction between art and collection ultimately becomes blurred. To be sure, whether it involves Duchamp, Rodin, contemporary art, folk art or antique toys, the psychological function of the desire to bring it all together remains the same: an escape from everyday banality into the hyper-individual realm of the imagination.
As such, this exhibition constitutes Ronny Van de Velde's twenty-first century Wunderkammer. Yet in stark contrast to the seventeenth-century version, this is not a back room of a court or castle where the intellectual class would retreat from the hustle and bustle to marvel at the wonders of the world collected in the seclusion of a wondrous chamber.
In 2023, the miracle takes place in the public space of a museum and is open to everyone.
Artists: James Ensor, Marcel Broodthaers, Jules Schmalzigaug, Panamarenko, Henry Van de Velde, Bruce Nauman