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M Is for Museum Leuven

A new museum opened yesterday in Leuven (Louvain), Belgium -- dubbed "the M" for Museum Leuven, the updated name of the old Museum Vander Kelen-Mertens -- so new that the Web site is still under construction. Architect Stéphane Beel created a "sober and magnificent" building, near the Place Mgr Ladeuze Ladeuzeplein, at the cost of 20 million €, of which 5 million were raised by the Flemish community. See some lovely photographs of the completed building on Flickr. Guy Duplat published a preview ( Musée "M", pureté, lumière, September 19) in La Libre Belgique (my translation and links added):

It is above all four times larger and more contemporary [than the museum it replaces]. As the result of a competition, it was Stéphane Beel's project that was chosen. The architect is one of the Flemish stars: after having built the Raveelmuseum and the Rubenshuis, he completed the new wing of De Singel and is going to begin the transformation of the Royal Museum for Central Africa in Tervuren. Here he has built a museum of 13,500 square meters, including 6,000 square meters of exhibit space, which is an area, in terms of surface space, on par with the S.M.A.K. [Municipal Museum of Contemporary Art] in Ghent. Stéphane Beel incorporated two existing buildings, the old conservatory and the old museum, to transform them and integrate them into two new buildings in a complex ensemble that still manages to have fluidity.

"It was a challenge being in the middle of the city, but by that same fact, it was very interesting," Beel said. Once you are through the gate, you can descend into the museum or go up to the public garden from where you can admire the new buildings, in warm and tan travertine, pierced by big windows. Pure lines harmonize well with the two older preserved buildings. "We wanted to give back some open space to the historic town center, sparing the trees, creating open corridors typical of Leuven." The architect imagined a complete route for the visitor on one single floorplan, playing with slight differences in level to compensate for the slope of the terrain. He had to keep in mind that the museum could exhibit modern art as well as medieval art. "The fluidity of the floorplan allows one to pass cleanly from one to the other." It is architecture that respects the city's height restriction and does not raise itself higher than the neighboring houses but that is not afraid to be unveiled, with its two little towers that mark off the space, offering magnificent terrace views of the city and showing off the museum to the outside.
The inaugural exhibit, Rogier Van der Weyden (1400-1464), Master of Passions, is a must-see for anyone in that region of the world and will be open through December 6. Duplat also wrote a review of what will likely be one of the blockbuster exhibits of the fall.


Immanuel Gilen said...

Thanks for reporting on the (little) cultural activity of Flanders! The Van der Weyden exhibit is indeed not to be missed.

I have one little comment; as Leuven is a Flemish city, the square is called Ladeuzeplein rather than Place Ladeuze. It may seem completely inconsequential but it's a sensitive issue, not just in Belgium in general but particularly in Leuven which was the site of Flemish emancipation in higher education in 1968.

Charles T. Downey said...

Thanks, Immanuel -- I was translating from a French-language daily, but I still should have thought to render the place name in Flemish. I am aware of the linguistic tension from a personal incident that occurred the last time that my wife and I visited Belgium. We stopped in a Flemish area to ask directions and, knowing no Flemish, I began the conversation in French. The shop owner responded that my initial impulse should have been to ask my question in English. She was polite but very firm that we were on the other side of the language border.

So, I have corrected the article as you suggest. Thanks for reading!