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Visual Arts Flanders 2012 2

Juste Kostikovaite

At the end of last year, in December 2011, Tate Modern hosted a discussion about the art events that await Visual Arts Flanders in 2012. This goes to show that the newly appointed Tate Modern director, Chris Dercon, has not forgotten his Belgian roots.

For Visual Arts Flanders (“a cluster of visual arts exhibitions only one hour away from Brussels”), the year has started with not only finally getting a national government, but also with five international art events. The events are the following: Beaufort 04 (March 31 – September 30), TRACK (May 12 – September 16), Middelheim (re-opening on May 26), Manifesta 9 (June 2 – September 30) and Newtopia (September 1 – October 12).

“I Can Hear it” by Latvian artist Ivars Drulle at Beaufort 04

Beaufort 04, the fourth edition of the “Triennial for Contemporary Art at Sea”, opened on March 31. It showcases the works of 27 contemporary artists at various locations, including the Latvian artist Ivars Drulle, the Estonian artist Flo Kasearu, and the Lithuanian Zilvinas Kempinas (lives and works in New York), whose new works have been commissioned to line the beach of Beaufort. Together with TRACK, this event will continue the new custom of exhibiting outside of the walls of museums and galleries.

Tripods by Lithuanian artist Zilvinas Kempinas at Beaufort 04

TRACK will exhibit the works of 41 international artists in the public realm – outside of the museum in Ghent. TRACK has been leading the way according to this new manifesto, as well as organizing open talks and generating other types of knowledge.

“Coast to Coast” by Estonian artist Flo Kaserau at Beaufort 04

The open-air museum Middelheim, in Antwerp, will undergo a metamorphosis in 2012. It will feature a half-open pavilion by Paul Robbrecht, an exhibition by Thomas Schütte, and monumental creations by Ai Weiwei.

And, the most important event of all, Manifesta, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art, will showcase the works of young European artists in Genk. Newtopia, located in Mechelen and curated by Kathrin Rohmberg, will be the first major contemporary art exhibition that will explore the theme of human rights. 

Going back to the promotional Flanders' cultural event of last December at Tate, Chris Dercon expressed a subtle skepticism towards the topics and formats of events. He was daringly igniting the discussion around the problems that circle around the phenomena of the event, in relation to the practice of contemporary art exhibitions which try to become a spectacle – a place and process of fascination. Co-curator of the TRACK, Mirjam Varadinis, pointed out in response that “since art has now become over-popularized, which is very dangerous, we should be very careful and keep this in mind when organizing big international events for the local public”.

However, all dangers aside, and with all of Europe discussing financial and political crises, Flanders is demonstrating huge optimism through this big cultural gesture, all while keeping in mind the decrease in funding for public art events. Although Beaufort 04 received only 4.5 mil. euros (compared to the 7 mil. euros they got in 2003), they have managed to generate big exhibitions in a relatively small area. With cultural funding cuts in the Netherlands, it seems that Belgium is becoming the new Netherlands, a place to be and work.