Step into the rooms devoted to the oldest works, late medieval masterpieces, and you are immediately struck by the dazzling gold of the paintings that stands out against the new, dark blue walls.
MSK curator Lieven Van den Abeele: « Blue is a colour of luxury in the Middle Ages. It was made from lapis lazuli that had to come all the way from Afghanistan and that was even more expensive than gold. »
The MSK boasts international masters of late medieval art as well as Netherlandish greats. The museum's gems include two Bosches: 'Saint Jerome' and the 'Carrying of the Cross'. 'Saint Jerome' featured at the big Bosch exhibition in 's-Hertogenbosch marking the fifth centenary of Bosch's death. It was an opportunity to focus scientific research on this master. 'Saint Jerome' is now seen as the genuine article, while researchers suggest the 'Carrying of the Cross' may be the work of a pupil. »
It is in the first room devoted to late medieval art from England, Germany and Italy that we encounter the first contemporary artist: Ria Verhaeghe, a native of Bruges, her works have been placed cheek by jowl with the greats. Lieven Van den Abeele:
« Ria Verhaeghe has been producing art for four decades now. She collects photographs of the dead from newspapers and magazines. These photos are starting points. She paints over the original photograph, usually of a dead person in a horizontal position, and creates a 'vertical'. By changing the position of the deceased she conjures up the image of a resurrection! »
Patrick Van Caeckenbergh is the second contemporary artist whose works are contrasted with earlier masters. Van Caeckenbergh is a native of Aalst, who after studying in Ghent set up house in the Flemish Ardennes.
Lieven Van den Abeele: « Van Caeckenbergh had his own studio encapsulated in his house. It had a bed and a stove and it is here that for two decades he produced his collages and assemblages. A couple of years ago Van Caeckenbergh donated his entire studio to the MSK. »
The studio forms a kind of giant cigar box that has been set up in the room devoted to 17th century art.
Lieven Van den Abeele: « This was the century when the world became a lot bigger. It was the century of the great discoveries and scientific breakthroughs. Unlike most artists who are fascinated by art itself, Van Caeckenbergh focuses on knowledge? How can we collect knowledge. How does our memory work and how do we share knowledge? For Van Caeckenbergh the cigar box is the prototype of the container and receptacle of our knowledge.»
Works by Van Caeckenbergh include the Nautilus house (below), a kind of mobile chariot, a snail clock and a 'Singing Teakettle' in which you can doze off. Many of the works are displayed in the curved gallery together with 17th century Dutch masters.
Flemish art giant Luc Tuymans is the third contemporary artist to feature together with works from the MSK's permanent collection. Lieven Van den Abeele: « The exhibition that first brought Tuymans to prominence was staged here in the cellars of the MSK in 1990 and the museum has a special place in the artist's heart. Tuymans is an artist who recognises that his works are a continuation of a historic tradition. He's a painter, but the cinema too has played an important role in his career. Especially for the MSK Tuymans created a very first fresco. He'd made murals before, but a fresco painted on wet chalk was something completely different and something he was keen to discover. The fresco 'Arena' consists of three panels that you encounter at the end of a curved gallery packed with works by sculptors Paul De Vigne, Constantin Meunier and Auguste Rodin. The fresco forms the end of a journey that starts with a work that was also exhibited at Tuymans's first exhibition at the MSK. »
'Arena ' revisits a work first created in 1978. It was a turning point in Tuymans's career when he started to mix several media including painting and collage. There are cinematographic references too. On the first of the three panels a silhouette gazes at figures that cannot be recognised. All three panels depict the same scene but from a different perspective.
After painting Tuymans experimented with film creating a diorama on Super 8 film. In 2014 stills from this film were used as the basis for six paintings. The frescos once again focus on the same theme.
'From Bosch to Tuymans: a vital story' features at the MSK, the Fine Arts Museum in Ghent, until 28 February 2018.