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  • Writer's pictureVan Weyenbergh Fine Art

Antwerp, Belgium, from Axel Vervoordt to Laure Prouvost, a city in constant movement.

Antwerp, the Flemish, is not only the second largest harbour in Europe, the city of diamonds and a golden generation of fashion designers. With its privileged position, close to London, Amsterdam and Germany, it is also a living centrum for contemporary art.

"Antwerp is taming, it takes time, but it is a city open to the world and ultra connected. We really feel that we are in a harbour, "says Laure Prouvost, who moved there in 2014, following a residency at the Extra City Art Center. The visual artist, who represents France at the next Venice Biennale, is currently showing a wide range of her works at the MHKA, the Museum of Contemporary Art in the city, until May 19.

Antwerp, whose creativity in all domains - fashion, dance, gastronomy ... - does not escape anyone, nevertheless surprises with its artistic vivacity, with the affirmed identity: "It is a scene solidly established for a very long time: its tradition goes back to the Flemish primitives, and it is still sensitive, "says Nav Haq, curator at M HKA and curator of Laure Prouvost's exhibition ." After the war, the city becomes a high place of the avant-garde, with artists like Panamarenko." A generation, that Luc Tuymans or Jan Fabre, took over. It is also the hometown of the most Belgian of Mexican artists, Francis Alÿs." A promising breeding ground, such as Philip Metten, Vaast Colson, and the very young Ben Sledsens and Charline Tyberghein, thrives on this historic breeding ground, which also attracts artists from around the world, such as Laure Prouvost, Kati Heck or Otobong Nkanga. "The city has a great energy, the different artistic scenes mix and get rich, that's what makes it special," adds Kati Heck.

Prestigious institutions, such as the Museum of Fine Arts and the Fashion Museum (both under construction), the M HKA, the Foto museum and the Middelheim Open Air Sculpture Museum, rub shoulders with a dense network of galleries. Zeno X, opened in 1981, is one of the leading new galleries: the gallery, first installed in the South (Zuid) at a time when the neighborhood was far from as trendy as today, moved there a few years ago in a much more popular neighborhood, where some of her artists, such as Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven, have their studio. Its founder, Frank Demaegd, has helped international artists such as Luc Tuymans, Marlene Dumas and Jack Whitten become established internationally. Since then, a slew of electrifying addresses have sprung up in the Zuid, including galleries such as Tim Van Laere, Sofie Van de Velde, Plus-One or Keteleer.

Despite the presence of the beautiful Foto museum in the sharp programming, photography was a little poor relative, until a young passionate and ambitious Antwerp decided to impose it. Roger Szmulewicz opened Fifty One, his gallery, in 2000, in the center. First known for the African artists he represents - Seydou Keïta, Malick Sidibé and Okhai Ojeikere - he has since formed a close collaboration with an impressive set of beautiful international signatures, such as Saul Leiter, William Klein, Masao Yamamoto, Steve McCurry or Michael Wolf, or Belgians, like Harry Gruyaert and the young Bruno V. Roels. To the point that Fifty One is today the first photography gallery in Belgium, and that the city follows with a biennial, AntwerpPhoto, whose first edition was held last summer. On the strength of his success, Roger Szmulewicz has been expanding his programming in recent years to include works on paper, including those of designer Arpais Du Bois

In the shadow of the cathedral: And then there is a place apart, an original complex founded by Axel Vervoordt . This antique dealer, decorator, great collector, passionate about the ancient world, art and design, began fifty years ago by settling in the shadow of the cathedral, restoring Renaissance houses. With the success of his formidable Venetian exhibitions and his desire to create an island of life and art, he acquired an old malting house, ten minutes east of the city, and designed Kanaal,at the turn of the 2000s. Its 55,000 square meters of brick and concrete now house a real estate project, a restaurant, the offices of the family business, the restoration workshops, an exhibition of part of the collection. Vervoordt and the gallery founded by their son Boris in 2011, in a continuity of intention with the collection that the latter qualifies as "cellular". Among the pieces in the collection (visible by appointment) are a monumental work by Anish Kapoor and another hypnotic by James Turrell in an old chapel. In a series of rooms plunged in semi-dim light, the paintings of Japanese Gutaï painters, ancient Buddhist sculptures, and a glittering work by Otto Piene intersect each other. The museum gallery displays contemporary artists from all walks of life with a predilection for Japan and Korea. With a desire for timelessness. The trademark of Antwerp. Article published, in Figaro Madame, april 13 2019, Anne Claire Meffre

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