Housed in a former industrial building of glass and metal which was built in 1911 for the Charleroi exhibition to accommodate the Walloon ‘Palais d’Art’, the BPS 22 has managed to revive its cultural past in a big way. Following its establishment as a Contemporary Art centre in 2000, director Pierre-Olivier Rollin has planned to raise the BPS22 to the rank of Museum.
The former warehouse, which also served as the technical institute of the Province of Hainaut, holds both artistic and educational potential in its DNA. “We have made every effort to give the site the necessary space to achieve our ambitions, not only so that we can show in alternance the masterpieces belonging to the Province of Hainaut, but also to showcase international artists, organise performances, etc.” explains Pierre-Olivier Rollin, director and curator of the ongoing exhibition. Living up to his word, for the grand opening weekend of the BPS22 museum, Rollin invited Emmanuel Giraud, a master of culinary arts, who concocted a literary feast, combining Italian wines and dishes with the heavenly food of poetry. After 18 months of works, during which 1,500 m2 will be added to the existing 1,000 m2, within a budget of 4 million euro allocated by the Province of Hainaut, the Wallonia-Brussels Federation and the City of Charleroi, the BPS 22 will officially become a museum in 2017.
“We are extremely proud to allow the establishment of a new Belgian museum which, thanks to the rich permanent collection of the Hainaut Province and its original philosophy, will reinforce the position of Charleroi on the art map, following the creation of the Museum of Photography,” comments Joëlle Milquet, Vice-President of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation and Minister of Education, Culture and Children. And when we ask her about her personal motivation for supporting such a project, in such a space, she talks about her childhood in Charleroi and memories of a gloomy building. “This [project] thumbs its nose at a lifeless site by turning it into a space full of life! Its scope, its cultural vision, the works on display are an engine giving our artists worldwide exposure, and a springboard for the area, the Boulevard Solvay which is historically surrounded by schools and educational organisations”, adds the minister.
The 2016 exhibition programme will primarily draw from the collection of about 6,000 works owned by the Province of Hainaut, including works by artists from the 19th century to the present day, from paintings to videos or performances, as well as installations or tapestries, and an important archive collection. This will be an opportunity to display the works of Belgian artists such as Anna Boch, Constantin Meunier, Pol Bury, Marcel Broodhaerts and Wim Delvoye in a dialogue with other renowned artists such as Andy Warhol, Wang Du, Banks Violette, Cindy Sherman, and many more. The BPS22 has also acquired its own works, mainly relating to Belgian punk design, and has received several donations. This major permanent collection will allow curators to arrange artworks in a unique way, according to a scenography that is both specific and educational. The main axes have been defined: art in Hainaut, Surrealism, and the relationship between art and the various forms of power. These three axes are organised to make us question the relationship between art and the societies which produce it. In this founding spirit, the inaugural exhibition brings together a series of contemporary works drawing inspiration from popular cultures, which leads to a creative explosion between low and high culture.
The Worlds Turned Upside Down, contemporary art and popular culture
Inspired by an English ballad, The World Turned Upside Down (1646), The Worlds Turned Upside Down exhibition provides us with an aesthetic, fun, political, and especially not academic insight into today’s society, torn between its loyalty to tradition and out-of-control evolution. We derive from it a romantic vision, inspired by piracy which used to be governed by its own codes, thus creating a marginal society, certainly, but where everyone’s right to free speech was respected. “This first exhibition heralds a trend of ideas which will eventually contribute to overthrowing the old world to restore democracy,” explains exhibition curator Pierre-Olivier Rollin. The art of symbolically turning the governing power on its head is typical of popular culture, especially carnivals.
The Worlds Turned Upside Down showcases works that use the language of folk culture, forgotten crafts to make us want to go home like in Pascale Marthine Tayou’s Home Sweet Home. This amazing, fascinating work by the Cameroonian artist living in Ghent questions the concept of protection associated with one’s home with its accompanying nationalist drifts to suggest other ways of being in one’s nest. In the large hall, Patrick Van Caeckenbergh’s frilly carrousel, Dais, echoes the Cloaca Numéro 5 by Wim Delvoye, both mixing so-called noble art with the lowest of human objects or productions. The D9 machine is a reproduction of the engine of the famous Caterpillar bulldozer created by Eric Van Hove using 35 wood species and precious materials in contradiction with the object’s very use, whilst Joanna Vasconcelos and her Madame du Barry in a corset of embroidered mesh engage us in a reflection on crafts. In the White box, a silently rotating fair merry-go-round draws our gaze to a table around which 14 headless mannequins dressed in the famous wax fabrics seem to be discussing. They illustrate the 14 western countries which divided up Africa between themselves at the Berlin conference in 1885: national identities are political constructions and we feel excluded from the conversation, according to Niger artist Yinka Shonibare.
In conclusion to this first exhibition, we feel that, despite the monumental dimension of the venue, the works are arranged in such a way that we can nonetheless enter into their respective world, using the common thread linking them together. With its vibrant voids, lofty heights, and vanishing lines towards smaller, more intimate spaces, including, amongst others, a white box with a singular atmosphere, the BPS22 is a place designed to forster discoveries and freedom. “By reactivating cultural dialectic between the top and bottom, artists generate an aesthetic, moral, cultural, political, economic, religious … revolution that will open the door to other possibilities, other organisations, other standards: countless upside down worlds,” concludes Pierre-Olivier Rollin.
The BPS 22 is also a space that welcomes the unexpected, where events are held involving disciplines such as dance, as well as performances, readings, themed days, philosophical teas… for adults and also workshops for the younger generation, such as the Pepites festival in May 2016.
Les Mondes Inversés
Musée d’Art de la province de Hainaut
22 boulevard Solvay
Until 31 January 2016
Tuesdays-Sundays, from 11:00 to 19:00