Dear icc aspects of contemporary art in Belgium 1970-1985



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Dear ICC

aspects of contemporary art in Belgium 1970-1985

18.12.04 – 27.02.05

winter exhibition 2004-2005
ICC: the history
The foundation of the International Cultural Centre (ICC) in 1969 was partly a reaction of the authorities to the dissatisfaction many artists experienced with the existing museums and their (non-existent) policy concerning contemporary art. It was not only the students who protested in 1968. Artists also took to the streets in support of a democratic culture for everyone and for a fitting place there for contemporary art. The Paleis voor Schone Kunsten (Palace of Fine Art) in Brussels was occupied, and in Antwerp the VAGA (Free Action Group Antwerp) held a sit-in in the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten (KMSKA, Royal Museum of Fine Art).

At the time Frans Van Mechelen, the Minister of National Education and Culture, and the driving force behind the cultural centres in Flanders, unexpectedly had the use of the former Royal Palace on the Meir in Antwerp, which was not used by the royal family anymore. In 1970 the ICC opened its doors there, headed by BRT journalist Ludo Bekkers. Then there was no other official site for contemporary art in Flanders, only (commercial) galleries such as MTL in Brussels and Wide White Space in Antwerp and (private) initiatives such as the Vereniging voor Tentoonstellingen (Association for Exhibitions) in the Paleis voor Schone Kunsten in Brussels and the Vereniging voor het Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst (Association for the Museum of Contemporary Art) in Gent.

As a cultural centre, the ICC had the remit of taking culture to the people: theatre, dance, music, literature, film, applied art, architecture etc., with the emphasis on contemporary art. Founded as a kind of anti-museum, it strove after as great as possible openness towards the artists and towards the public. All activities were free of charge and for that time much attention was paid to guiding the public. In Bekkers' vision, the ICC had to become a 'palace for the people'.

In 1972, the directorship was taken over by Florent Bex. Bekkers’ utopian ideal of art for the masses made room for the expansion of a dynamic site where the international and Belgian avant-garde found a platform for its experiments and a studio for its video productions. However, the ICC continued to pursue a large and varied public and regularly went extramural for that purpose. The aim was to build bridges between the public and the avant-garde (and because the ICC housed the only public toilet between central station and the River Scheldt sometimes helped to bring a broad public literally closer to art).


From the opening on, there was palpable tension between the ICC operation and the eighteenth-century city palace, more particularly between (the requirements of) contemporary art and the (not always adapted) exhibition rooms. Therefore, Ludo Bekkers had commissioned architect Werner Debondt to design a movable exhibition structure with white panels. The intention behind what was essentially an open structure was to enter into a dialogue with the historical context and, at the same time, to keep the surroundings intact and give the works of art something to 'hold on to'. Later, that exhibition structure was mainly employed to hide the rococo interiors and to create white boxes as the environment for contemporary art.

In spite of stringent budgets, the exhibitions followed each other in very rapid succession (around 400 between 1970 and 1990, solo as well as group exhibitions, composed by the ICC team as well as by guest curators). The exhibition programme was supplemented with performances, video presentations, lectures, debates, concerts, poetry afternoons etc. The focus of the exhibitions was mainly the avant-garde. However, within that avant-garde everything came to the fore, from conceptual to neo-expressionist, from video to painting. During the first few years, particular attention was paid to the international world of art, from the periphery (with contemporary art from Latin America and East Europe for example) as well as from the centre (with the programming of 'great' international artists). From 1974, as if the ICC had first wanted to create an international context for national artists, Belgian art came increasingly to the fore and in the 1980s it dominated virtually all the exhibitions. The foremost Belgian artists of the 1970s and 1980s exhibited there and even made their debuts there.


Under Flor Bex the ICC developed from an anti-museum to the breeding ground from which the later Antwerp museum for contemporary art (MuHKA) was going to spring. As far as the latter is concerned, Gordon Matta-Clark's 1977 project – Office Baroque – would appear to be a turning point. After the artist's death, pains were taken to keep this masterpiece in an unoccupied office building on the River Scheldt and more specifically to integrate it as the focus in a new museum for contemporary art, which would then be built on the land around it. Artists from all over the world supported the project and donated a work to the Gordon Matta-Clark Foundation. In the end and in spite of all the efforts, Office Baroque was demolished and Antwerp still had to wait for its museum for several years. However, the collection of the Gordon Matta-Clark Foundation was one of the arguments leading to the establishment of the MuHKA in 1985. In that way, the ICC and the MuHKA not only have a director in common (the first director of the MuHKA was Flor Bex). It may also be said that the first half of the existence of the ICC is at the same time an important part of the history of the MuHKA.
In 1983, the ICC directorship was taken over by Willy Juwet and it was to function increasingly as a platform for young Flemish artists. In 1990, the ICC was housed in the modern art department of the KMSKA and several dossier exhibitions on the roots of modern art were organised, including one on the VAGA occupation action in 1968. In 1998 the ICC was closed, a decision greeted by protest and an occupation of the former Royal Palace by a group of artists (Hit & Run). In the same year, the NICC (New International Cultural Centre) was founded as an artists' organisation committed to the artistic as well as social interests of artists.
ICC: the exhibition
Dear ICC wants to be an 'informative exhibition'. Not only because the exhibitions in the ICC as such were always called that, but particularly because there is so much to tell. In the past few years Johan Pas sifted through the ICC archives for his doctoral thesis and the MuHKA invited him to compose this exhibition on the basis of his findings. The title ‘Dear ICC’ was taken from a letter from the performance artist Laurie Anderson that was found in the archives.
On the whole, it may be said that Dear ICC tells ‘three + one’ stories.

In the first place there is the story of the ICC between 1970 and 1985. The viewer is invited to (re)discover the operation and importance of that illustrious institute in the period when the ICC was at its most dynamic, progressive and meaningful. It will be seen that the image which the ICC has is often one-sided: the ICC is characterised by diversity, plurality, contradictions and paradoxes.

In the second place, through the ICC a story is told of the Belgian art scene in the 1970s and the first half of the 1980s, set against the light of an international context. This period in Belgian art is little known by the public and this is an excellent opportunity to do something about it, since it all happened in or at least through the ICC.

In the third place there is a story about archives. An archive is generally passive: it is a collection point where things are waiting until someone comes to have a look at them, something which may never happen. An archive is also often a terminus: things are dumped there that will usually never see the light of day again, let alone be involved in a new process. The exhibition attempts to demonstrate how an archive can become active, can start coming to life and be a starting point for new meanings.

In addition, there is a secondary story line which emerges here and there: the story of the museum for contemporary art. The story of the ICC starts in fact with the criticism of conventional museums as conservative bastions (museum protest), with the ICC as the first official site in Flanders where contemporary art was shown, as a kind of anti-museum. This story continues with the development into a museum for contemporary art (MuHKA) to end at the current museum crisis in which the functioning of museums for contemporary art is questioned. Perhaps the model of the early ICC can offer inspiration today?
These (and other) stories are told with the aid of archive documents, works of art exhibited in the ICC at one time or another and remakes of such works of art on the basis of archive documents. Johan Pas made a personal selection from the enormous range; he opted for works created between 1970 and 1985 and exhibited in the ICC, but which are still topical and meaningful and at the same time reflect the heterogeneity and pluralism that characterised the ICC.

The documents and objects in the exhibition are grouped in 7 rooms according to as many themes; these are discussed and elucidated below. However, it is certainly not the intention to pigeonhole the works of art or to force the ICC and Belgian art in the period 1970-1985 into a straightjacket. In the awareness that a different division, of the exhibition as well as of each separate work of art, was possible, the viewer is invited to recompose the histories and stories himself and thus create a' 'picture' of the ICC and its artistic context.


The concept of the accompanying publication for Dear ICC is a 'portable archive'. It is based on the doctoral thesis by Johan Pas about the ICC, entitled ‘Iconoclasm in a Mirror Hall'. Publication is scheduled for some time in 2005. Furthermore, in the context of the exhibition, the symposium 'Show & Tell' about exhibition models and presentation practices will take place on Saturday 26 February 2005.
what does the ICC mean to you?
The viewer can be introduced to the ICC in the central room of the ground floor. For many the ICC may evoke the image of a conceptual bulwark, but here this idea is differentiated through bringing the institute's diversity, complexity and paradoxes to the fore. Conceptual art was certainly an important aspect, but on the other hand there also were for example sculpture and the art of painting and the desire to reach a broad public. Since this introduction is important as an introduction to the ICC and to the exhibition, it will be dealt with in more detail in this brochure.
It starts at the entrance of the museum, where various aspects of the ICC are brought to our attention by the re-creation of a work by Daniel Buren. First of all, there are the conceptual and international facets: the ever-recurring vertical stripes of this French artist are based on his ideas on art. For example, he questions the meaning of uniqueness, creativity, originality and context. Placing the work on the front door – as was the case with the former Royal Palace in 1974 – in turn shows the ICC striving to get everybody, including the unsuspecting passers-by, in touch with current trends in art.

At the same time, the entrance part explains one of the exhibition's basic ideas: the living archive. On the wall behind the entrance hall there is a photograph of Buren's intervention in the ICC at the time: an archive picture. However, this archive picture is not an endpoint: it was the reason for the authorised remake on the front door of the MuHKA which re-activated the work and may evoke new meanings and experiences. In this way, the archive is the basis for 'new life'.

The brightly coloured toy animals by Pieter Kortekaas from 1970, Ludo Bekkers' period as director, completely fit in with the idea of the ICC as a palace for the people and with the democratisation notion of 1968. Children were free to enjoy themselves to their heart's content on these works of art, which were set up on the inner courtyard of the former Royal Palace: art is there for everybody. Especially for this exhibition, the sculptures were dug up from the playground where they have served for decades; the traces of intense use (and the fact that children are still allowed to play on them) are in sharp contrast to the notion of museums where nothing can be touched and where a hallowed silence reigns. The 'lived-through' nature of the works may simultaneously be a symbol of the 'wear and tear' of the utopian thoughts of 1968.
Apart from presenting conceptual art, the ICC was also known for its support of performance and video art. The name of this museum room – what does the ICC mean to you? – was in fact taken from the title of the performance that Daniël Dewaele gave on the Meir in 1980. He stopped passers-by and asked what they knew and thought of the ICC. Many of the works of art from this period attest to great interest in the public and are characterised by an explicit sociological bias, with the artists often using the tools of sociology such as the questionnaire. For example, Lea Lublin also interviewed passers-by with the aid of previously established questions on art. The work Yesterday/Today (1975) by Dan Graham also focuses on the public as well and uses the possibilities of video. The monitor shows live pictures from the MuHKAFE, but the sound dates from exactly 24 hours earlier. Yesterday/today: appropriate in an exhibition with a living archive.

The important role the ICC played in the field of video art in Belgium is further symbolised here by Marie-Jo Lafontaine's video sculpture. For years now she has been an internationally acclaimed video artist, but this video work from 1979 is her first. It might be said that the ICC inspired her to use video as a medium and this first work came about in the ICC video studio. This is in fact also about activating an archive document: the images are original (archive) material, but the sculptures which complete the work by emphasising the vertical movement of piling the ground on the one hand and the horizontal feeling of the piled plates on the other are a new creation.

Marie-Jo Lafontaine was not the only one who allowed herself to be inspired by the video activities in the ICC. In 1974, video artist Hubert Van Es took part in the exhibition ‘Aspects of Contemporary Art in Belgium’. The video installation with the sandpit in which the viewer can 'play along' with the video is a remake of one of his works that could be seen on that occasion. Work by Hubert Van Es had to be included in an exhibition on the ICC: it belongs to the colourful history of the ICC, an anecdote like every institute has. For Hubert Van Es was the alter ego of the ICC director.

In the ICC, the moving (video) image was flanked by photography: photographers as well as artists who (sometimes) used photography as a medium found a public there. Bill Vazan's photographic work is a conceptual work depicting the artist's interest in human interaction, in the relationship between man and the cosmos, through the medium of photography.

Not just new media such as video and performance found a home in the ICC, there was also plenty of space for the art of painting. The exhibited text paintings by Filip Francis from the middle of the 1970s and the psychedelic composition by Fred Bervoets from 1971 demonstrate that the ICC was not limited to one single trend in painting, but also featured the conceptual as well as the expressionist side. The painting-in-a-crate by Pieter Engels takes a distance from the art of painting by providing ironic comments.
The ICC had a very special relationship with the American artist James Lee Byars. This is also apparent from the many letters he wrote to Flor Bex. In fact, in those uniquely designed letters one of his most famous performances comes to the fore: Shadow of an Extra-Terrestrial (see also 'public space'), which Byars also called ‘The Antwerp Giant’. In addition to the letters, there is a video which Chris Goyvaerts (Continental Video) made in 1976 with this artist playing the lead: James Lee Byars – the 100 images are in one second.

Guy Bleus' pseudo-administration may be interpreted as a pithy comment on the 'mass of paperwork' which an institute such as the ICC – or as a museum - generates (although Byars' letters are works of art rather than administrative documents). A dynamic platform like the ICC, started as a kind of anti-museum, does not escape the administrative whirligig which characterises museums and other public institutions either. On the contrary: the ICC team had to fight several heroic battles against the 'system' to realise its self-willed projects.

The non-conformist nature of the ICC is expressed in all the works in this room, but André Cadéré's work is definitely completely permeated by it. Cadéré questioned the world of art by often supplying his contribution to an exhibition without being asked and often unwanted. As a performance, he turned up time and again with one of his coloured wooden sticks, which he sometimes gave a well thought-out place among the other works of art. The fact that Cadéré and the ICC got on well together is demonstrated by the long sojourn of his work there – in 1975 one of his 'sticks' floated above the inner courtyard for months – and from the fact that his presence was announced in the ICC's communication (instead of trying to get him out).


Dood Archief II (Dead Archive II) by Denmark has been installed as a transition to the second exhibition room. This work symbolises everything the artist opposes in human information transfer: inaccessibility and obscurity because of an excess of compressed information so that knowledge, insight and spontaneity are lost. Such an inert, dead matter which can no longer be an opportunity for communication, new meanings and experiences, is in sharp contrast to what a living, active archive wants to be.
Fred Bervoets (1942, Belgium)

Guy Bleus (1950, Belgium)

Daniel Buren (1938, France)

James Lee Byars (1932-1997, United States)

André Cadéré (1934-1978, Poland/France)

Denmark (1950, Belgium)

Daniël Dewaele (1950, Belgium)

Pieter Engels (1938, The Netherlands)

Filip Francis (1944, Belgium)

Chris Goyvaerts (Continental Video)

Dan Graham (1942, United States)

Pieter Kortekaas (1947, The Netherlands)

Marie-Jo Lafontaine (1950, Belgium)

Lea Lublin (1929, Argentina)

Hubert Van Es (1937, Belgium)

Bill Vazan (1933, Canada)


archive
The completely black-painted archive room offers a glance at the rich ICC archive. In contrast to the general notion of an archive as a labyrinth-like, dusty place with old-fashioned furniture and brown boxes, the visitor is confronted with a minimalist, futuristic (although with a retro touch as a reference to the first decade of the ICC) snow-white laboratory-like archive. This design refers to the 'living' aspect of this archive which is not very distant from us in time – on the contrary: many of us still carry a bit of the ICC in their memory – and which may be a laboratory in which new things develop.

Whereas the exhibition deals with the period from 1970 to 1985, the archive continues for another five years, until the moment when the ICC became an outpost of the KMSKA in 1990. Moreover, documents on the ICC's symbolic starting and finishing point were added: the two sit-in actions are shown by excerpts from the archive of VAGA protester Serge Largot of 1968 and from the NICC archive of 1998.


The focus in this room is work by two artists who had nothing to do with the ICC as such and thus can look back on its history as objective observers. The large archive installation which structures the entire room, Active Archive, was created by Boy and Erik Stappaerts. This artist (sic) made an interactive installation in which various aspects of the archive come together. There is a sitting area where the visitor can leaf through ICC catalogues (which often looked more like artist's books) and where two films on the ICC are shown: one made by Jef Cornelis in 1970 on the occasion of the opening and one made by Marc Ghens in 1980. There is also a working area where a MuHKA employee regularly digitalises archive documents: here the question of the future of archives is raised. Finally, all sorts of documents and objects are exhibited in display cases and on pedestals, such as graphics and other multiples created by the Friends of the ICC (including an object by Panamarenko), plans of the exhibition structure designed by Werner Debondt for the ICC, photographs from the The Museum of Museums by Johan Van Geluwe and a photograph of the exclusive shoe-shop Chaussures Icécé arranged in 1980 by Guillaume Bijl in the mirror hall of the former Royal Palace in the context of his Kunstliquidatieprojecten (Art Liquidation Projects) (in a fictitious pamphlet from 1979 Bijl has the authorities decide that art is superfluous and that consequently all art institutions should obtain a more useful function. Therefore Bijl brings faultless imitations of reality into the context of art: a 'reality in unreality' which holds up a mirror for the viewer).

In this archive installation, there is also a construction in which the work of the second 'objective observer' can be viewed. Cel Crabeels made a video which takes the visitor along on a walk through the former Royal Palace as it looked before the restoration currently in progress. Together with a film he made with images of the Palace as it used to look (on the basis of old documents which were scanned and old videos) the viewer gets an impression of the place where it all happened, now and in the past.



Juridisch aspect van een emotie (Legal aspect of an emotion) from 1972-73 by Jef Geys has a privileged place in the archive room. In this artist's work, the archive idea is often an important component, as is evident here. We see a conglomerate of various elements which together make up the work. There are the pornographic collages and screen prints which Geys was not allowed to present in The Netherlands in 1972, there is correspondence on the controversy around that presentation and there are newspaper articles reporting on the whole case. In 1973 it was, however, exhibited in the ICC, in this extended version with correspondence and articles.
Cel Crabeels (1958, Belgium)

Boy & Erik Stappaerts (1969, Belgium)


Guillaume Bijl (1946, Belgium)

Jef Cornelis (1941, Belgium)

Werner Debondt (Belgium)

Jef Geys (1934, Belgium)

Marc Ghens (1939, Belgium)

Panamarenko (1940, Belgium)

Jean-Michel Sanejouand (1934, France)

Johan Van Geluwe (1929, Belgium)


painting/sculpture
As mentioned before and in spite of its reputation as a conceptual bastion bringing mainly immaterial matters (video, performances), the ICC paid great attention to the art of painting and to a lesser extent also to sculpture. In the period covered by this exhibition, there were two important trends within the art of painting which both came to the fore in the ICC and to each of which a large exhibition was devoted.

In the 1970s, painting was mainly dealt with in a minimal way: in the fundamental art of painting the artists started looking for the foundations of the painting. Medium, paint, colour, line etc. were analysed in a methodical way, resulting in very sober, abstract, often monochrome works. In 1974, this movement in painting was given a platform in the ICC with 'A painting exhibition of a number of painters who are probably investigating the painting as a possibility' in which work by Daniel Buren (front door) and Niele Toroni was shown.

From the late 1970s a more baroque, free way of painting predominated, in which figuration and expression started to play an important part again. In 1981 the ‘Picturaal 1’ (Pictorial 1) exhibition featured examples of this new trend, mainly by Belgian painters since the ICC started to work less internationally from the 1980s because of a concurrence of circumstances.

In this room, the two trends confront each other. On the left the non-figurative, minimal paintings are grouped, supplemented by sculptures along the same lines by Lili Dujourie and Bernd Lohaus. On the right the more pictorial and figurative works were brought together, also reinforced by a like-minded installation by Paul De Vylder. In the proper ICC tradition, however, everything is not what it seems: Jacques Charlier might be called a conceptual artist rather than a 'wild painter', for he has the habit of making fun of the world of art, up to and including the work of other artists. In this case, we see a good imitation (or should we say caricature?) of wild painting from the 1980s by him. Between the two camps there is a work by Leo Copers, which might symbolise the open war between the two extremely contrasting attitudes. Vliegende messen (Flying knives) from 1974 can also be interpreted as art demanding its own territory. But watch out here: art may really go for your throat!


Raoul De Keyser (1930, Belgium) Jacques Charlier (1939, Belgium)

Lili Dujourie (1941, Belgium) Thierry De Cordier (1954, Belgium)

Bernd Lohaus (1940, Germany/Belgium) Robert Devriendt (1955, Belgium)

Niele Toroni (1937, Switzerland/France) Paul De Vylder (1942, Belgium)

Thé van Bergen (1946, The Netherlands/Belgium) Danny Matthys (1947, Belgium)

Guy Rombouts (1949, Belgium)

Walter Swennen (1946, Belgium)

Narcisse Tordoir (1954, Belgium)

Patrick Van Caeckenbergh (1960, Belgium)

Philippe Vandenberg (1952, Belgium)

Leo Copers (1947, Belgium) Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven (1951, Belgium)


public space
The artists who were invited by the ICC for an exhibition or project very often did not stay within the confines of the former Royal Palace. They swarmed out to the inner courtyard, the Meir or further into the city. It is remarkable that many artists who are attracted to the public space have been trained as architects or urban developers. The action in public space did not always happen with the knowledge of the authorities, let alone their permission. Apparently the dynamism of the avant-garde and the ICC did not always allow waiting for the slow machinations of the administrative powers-that-be (and in some cases the rationale may have been that 'no' could be avoided by not asking for a 'yes').
Nicolas Uriburu's colouring of the Bonaparte dock in the Antwerp harbour with (biodegradable and completely harmless) green dye is an example of such 'illegal action'. Uriburu calls himself an ecological artist and tries to make people aware of the vulnerability of nature by his 'colourings' of water all over the world.

A particularly spectacular action in the public space was the unfolding of E.T. (Shadow of an Extra-Terrestrial) by James Lee Byars. This endlessly long figure in fine black gauze was unfolded by those present at the vernissage of his exhibition in the ICC in 1976 and thus made tactile for a little while on the De Keyserlei and the Meir. Subsequently it was folded again and deposited in the exhibition space.


Other artists did not really perform actions in the public space, but did involve the public's social world in their work (aspects of urbanism, architecture, ecology etc.).

For example, Yona Friedman made three critical booklets for the general public for the ICC on subjects such as 'The city is yours. Learn it!'. In the 1970s ‘orbanist’ Luc Deleu pleaded for various forms of architectural recycling, while ‘artchitect’ Johan Van Geluwe in his turn presented creative garden situations as a type of anthropological investigation into the 'garden habits' of Flemish people. In a similar way, Raoul Van den Boom pointed at the recycling of packaging materials in third-world countries.


Probably the most important action in the public space realised under the auspices of the ICC is the Office Baroque by Gordon Matta-Clark. This American artist became known with interventions in buildings in which he sounded out the limits of architecture and sculpture. When he was invited by Flor Bex in 1977, he decided to make his typical cut-outs in an unoccupied office building at the Ernest Van Dijckkaai 1, near the Steen. For Office Baroque (the project was dedicated to the 400th anniversary of the birthday of baroque artist Rubens) he made two circular intersecting incisions at each floor of the office building. This created various viewing holes through the building, so that the architecture was transformed into a sculpture.

The ICC was one of the first institutes to bring Gordon Matta-Clark to Europe, and with a large-scale project to boot. On the artist's premature death one year later, Office Baroque was the only remaining work of that type, but all efforts to retain it stranded on the owners' refusal to sell the premises. The exhibition includes documents as well as a film and photographs. On the occasion of Dear ICC, a model of Office Baroque was made and there is yet another first: the work Doors Crossing, which the artist created in a collector's house and which is now shown to the public for the first time. It is a combination of an original door from Office Baroque (above) and a door from the collector's house (below), which were brought together into one entity by circular incisions.


As a continuation of this room on artists attracted to public space, there is a work by Vito Acconci in the MuHKAFE and on the adjoining terrace. It is a sound work which links the ICC with the abuses in colonial Congo: the mirror hall of the former Royal Palace was built by Leopold II, who privately owned Congo for a long time. On the other side of the terrace there is a remake of ‘Voorstel voor stedelijke mesthopen’ (Proposal for urban dung heaps) by Luc Deleu from 1974.
Vito Acconci (1940, United States) (MuHKAFE + terrace)

James Lee Byars (1932-1997, United States)

Luc Deleu (1944, Belgium) (also on the terrace)

Yona Friedman (1923, Hungary)

Gordon Matta-Clark (1945-1978, United States)

Nicolas Uriburu (1937, Argentina)

Raoul Van den Boom (1937, Belgium)

Johan Van Geluwe (1929, Belgium)


concept
This room houses a collection of some of the works that contributed to the ICC's conceptual image. It features works of art in which the idea or, for example, a theoretical investigation play an important part as well as 'pure' conceptual art. From the late 1960s, the concept or idea that is the basis for a work of art gained more importance, and artists who followed this line of thought to its logical end pushed the work of art as a pure idea to the forefront: a work of art no longer has to be created in certain materials and according to certain techniques, it may also be given to the viewer as an idea, through text, photographic documentation or plans for example.
In such a set-up, the work of the 'godfather' of conceptual art, Joseph Kosuth, should of course not be lacking. Three works were selected from the exhibition devoted to him in the ICC in 1976. The glass plates against the wall, for example, demonstrate the suggestive powers which can emanate from conceptual art. The plates form a definition of themselves – clear square glass leaning (against the wall) – but through these four simple words they also transcend themselves.

Jef Geys and Marcel Broodthaers are also artists whose ideas reach far beyond the boundaries of their work. This is also attested by Geys’s Men vroeg op datum van 25 mei 1974 (It was asked on the date of 25 May 1974), a work consisting of job advertisements which appeared on that date in Flemish papers. Among other things, with this work he raised the issue of the lack of a statute for artists, a lacuna which was only recently met (also due to the efforts of the successor of the ICC, the NICC). Broodthaers' artist's books are exhibited, which were presented in the ICC in 1977 as a homage to the deceased artist.

Also because of the popularisation of anthropology and sociology, in the 1970s many artists translated their interest in 'common people' into investigations into their behaviour and convictions. For example, Maurice Roquet put the transition from the private environment to the public space under the magnifying glass by observing people leaving their house. Also, on the fifth floor there is a slide installation by Antonio Muntadas which focuses on communication: we observe the role of the transmitter on the one and that of the receiver on the other hand.


Ben (Vautier, 1935, Italy)

Marcel Broodthaers (1924-1976, Belgium)

Yves De Smet (1946-2004, Belgium)

Jef Geys (1934, Belgium)

Joseph Kosuth (1945, United States/Belgium)

Jacques Lizène (1946, Belgium)

Antonio Muntadas (1942, Spain) (fifth floor)

Maurice Roquet (1938, Belgium)

Jan Vercruysse (1948, Belgium)
performance
From 1976-77, the ICC started paying great attention to performances, in the context of an exhibition or as a separate project. In the 1970s, performances were a popular form of art for many avant-garde artists: the physical action enabled them to make the boundary between art and life fade away and to communicate with the public in a direct way. For artists the ICC was very attractive as a performance venue, since the video equipment and technicians present gave them the opportunity to document their work with moving images. It is of course true that only the public present can fully understand the meaning of this immaterial form of art, from which generally nothing tangible survives. Documentation by video, for example, is necessary to pass on some of the work to next generations of viewers. Other forms of documentation are photographs and any remaining objects used during the performances.
The ICC's powers of attraction for artists are also evident from the letter by the American performance artist Laurie Anderson that was found in the archive, and in which she makes clear her interest in coming to Belgium (Dear ICC!). In the end she was to come twice, in 1977 and 1979, and thus the ICC was one of the first institutions to bring this future world star to Europe. Another renowned international guest in the ICC was Orlan, nowadays mainly known for her transformations by means of plastic surgery. The image material shows that she took the measurements of the ICC with her own body at the time.

The Belgians, too, did not go unnoticed in the area of performance. For example, Jacques Lennep started the presentation of the last section of his Musée de l’Homme (Museum of Mankind) in the ICC with a performance. Lennep ‘collected’ people and exhibited them in his 'museum’: he documented the life of ordinary people with special traits, such as an orchid grower, a man who cuts heads out of chestnuts, a charm model and a man who took the role of Christ in the Passion play in the village of Ligny. The last section of the museum was devoted to this person, Yves Somville, and in the ICC the artist had Somville and himself made up as Christ, so that after some time two Christs were wandering among the guests at the vernissage.

The action by Danny Devos, who hid in the cellars of the ICC in 1980 without the knowledge of the ICC staff, was of a somewhat different nature. He sent a letter to some friends with the statement that he had locked himself in there, without food or drink, but with sleeping pills. However, because of a postal strike the letters were delayed and because of an attendants' strike nobody noticed anything suspect in the former Royal Palace, so that the somewhat benumbed and dehydrated but otherwise healthy artist was saved only three days after the start of his action. Exploring physical limits has remained a subject of Devos' performances since, in spite of this perilous experience.
Just as works of art are brought to life again by a remake elsewhere in the exhibition (for example, the 'Buren' on the front door), a performance will also be done again on the occasion of the opening of Dear ICC: Climax for Tumbling Woodblocks by Filip Francis. This performance, in which wooden planks knock each other over like gigantic dominoes, reflects the artist's interest in time and space and the relationship between the two (also remember his paintings in the first room). The planks are very carefully placed so that when they fall over, through the space and within a planned time-span, they produce a certain ‘melody’ which was written down by the artist in a score beforehand. In addition to the traces of the performance in the MuHKA a video is shown of the old performance in the mirror hall of the former Royal Palace.
Alessandro (1946, Italy/Belgium)

Laurie Anderson (1947, United States)

Connie Beckley (1951, United States)

James Lee Byars (1932-1997, United States)

Danny Devos (1959, Belgium)

Benni Efrat (1936, Israel)

Filip Francis (1944, Belgium)

Dan Graham (1942, United States)

Jacques Lennep (1941, Belgium)

Orlan (1947, France)

Ria Pacquée (1954, Belgium)

Fabrizio Plessi & Christina Kubisch (1940, Italy & 1948, Germany/Italy)

Reindeer Werk: Tom Puckey (1948, Great Britain) & Dirk Larsen (1951, Great Britain)

Susan Russell (United States)

Georges Smits (1944-1997, Belgium)

Zdzislaw Sosnowski (Poland)

Christine Vandemoortele (Una Maye, 1947, Belgium)

Daniël Weinberger (1950, Belgium)


video
Video as a medium for artists came into vogue in the second half of the 1960s. In Belgium, the ICC was one of the first places where video art and video installations were shown and where a video library was started. In addition, Flor Bex established the first Belgian video studio especially for artists there in 1974.

This production department, known as 'Continental Video', was housed in a separate non-profit institution for practical reasons. The name was taken from the Eerste Continentale Film- en Videotoer (First Continental Film and Video Tour) which in the previous year travelled through The Netherlands and Belgium on the initiative of the Artworker Foundation (primarily with Hugo Heyrman). A cinema had been installed in an old bus, so that this 'mobile museum for modern media' could bring the new art form to the people. That was actually one of the most seductive aspects of the medium for artists: the idea that through video (and television broadcasts for example) they could bring their work into the living room. At the time there were in fact not so many places where the public at large could be introduced to contemporary art.

In addition to its presentation and production, the ICC also stimulated thought and discussion about this new phenomenon in the visual arts. One of the most important debates that took place in that context, on video as an artistic medium, can be seen here (on video of course); it was held during the 5th International Encounter on Video in 1976.
The ICC left an archive of some 600 videotapes, featuring documentary works (performances for example) as well as artists' tapes. Only a fraction of this rich collection has been restored so far and the rest is in too poor a state to be shown at the moment; showing would be the same as destroying them. Therefore, in this exhibition only a small selection of around twenty tapes is shown, as a kind of sample book that is very 'more-ish' – for many master works are still awaiting restoration. Perhaps there is material here for another exhibition?

This room was actually arranged according to the original ideas of Ludo Bekkers for a music and film room: an intimate darkened lounge with wall-to-wall carpet and bean-bag seats.


Following on from this 'moving picture' department, the making of 'Lysistrata' is shown in the MuHKAFE, a film by Ludo Mich, seen through the lens of Flor Bex and Chris Goyvaerts of Continental Video. This ‘making of’ has a high entertainment value because Mich had rounded up virtually half the Antwerp art scene to figure (half) naked in the Greek drama that he wanted to film. The takes were performed illegally in the cellars of the former Royal Palace, because the director wanted to avoid being stopped by a 'njet' from the powers-that-be (just imagine: naked artists in the Royal Palace! A real iconoclasm in the mirror hall…).
Artworker Foundation: Hugo Heyrman (1942, Belgium) Luc Deleu, Filip Francis et al.

Continental Video: Kris Eckhardt, Chris Goyvaerts, Flor Bex

Leo Copers (1947, Belgium)

Luc Deleu (1944, Belgium)

Daniël Dewaele (1950, Belgium)

Michael Druks (1940, Israel)

Filip Francis (1944, Belgium)

Michael Harvey (1944, Great Britain)

Jacques Lizène (1946, Belgium)

Danny Matthys (1947, Belgium)

Guy Mees (1935-2003, Belgium)

Ludo Mich (1945, Belgium)

Jacques Louis Nyst (1942, Belgium)

Buky Schwartz (1932, Israel)

Frank Van Herck (1953, Belgium)

Wout Vercammen (1938, Belgium)

Mark Verstockt (1930, Belgium)
The exhibition folder is a realisation by the service of internal communication of the MuHKA

text: Marijke Van Eeckhaut on the basis of discussions with Johan Pas



translation: Jopie van Rooij

design: Claudia De Backer




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