Kunstmuseum aan zee Collecties van
de Vlaamse Gemeenschap
Stad Oostende

A museum in motion

On this page you can find some copy by Phillip Van den Bossche, director-curator of Mu.ZEE.

The museum and the collection in the plural

When I close a book
I open life
(Pablo Neruda)

The social role of the museum of the 21st century comprises its most important core function: active collection and constant renewal of the same. The museum namely collects ‘images of reality, the remnants of our transient experience which guarantee us a certain immortality’. This is the reasoning of the Argentinean writer Alberto Manguel, “Paintings, films, music, books are all the baggage of the universe. They are strong and durable, while our qualities as humans are fragility and transience.” 
Each work of art grows and changes as a result of endless interpretations and readings by different groups of people, by young and old. The collection changes by admitting the world in all its diversity. The collection is the pre-eminent means of making new demographic connections and investing in the future. The museum serves to adapt contemporary forms of (digital) communication and set up educational activities which are mapped out together with broad groups of society. Perception creates the world. The museum of the 21st century is not radical but critical. It makes the connection between the reflection and participation, scientific research and artistic practice, then and now, of artists. The museum is not critical if it tries to impose its own canon and brings the debate back to mere self-promotion.
Social and cultural changes affect the way in which collecting and exhibiting takes place. Today the museum is in a new experimental phase. It has long remained unchanged and has never strayed far from its historical origins and consolidated 19th century form. A number of factors mean that the museum is now involved in revision and, driven by artists, is actually changing. Contemporary artists imitate, make use of and modify all kinds of historical documents and narratives. This has become their basic material. They are transforming the museum, long based exclusively on objects, into an archive. As a result, museums are starting to adapt their organisational structure, to define exhibitions as temporary collections and to interpret the thinking behind collection policy on a much broader basis than objects. We look for and gather connections with changing external partners. The history of a collection and the geographical location from which the museum operates play a crucial role in this. This is namely a way of reducing the distance between the individual and the world anew. Temporary links can be established on the basis of the individual history of a collection, for example, collection mobility is no longer taboo and the opportunity for dialogue between the past, present and future is opened up.
If the museum is able and willing to take this route, can critically cherish its collection and actively makes new acquisitions, it becomes an archive for the future. The personal books of Permeke and the photographs of our colonial view of the Congo by Sammy Baloji (with watercolours by Léon Dardenne from 1898 in the background); an etching with highlights by Ensor and ‘the perfume’ from his uncle and aunt’s shop in Vlaanderenstraat; the installation (…) STAIN …) by Ana Torfs and a poster by Michel Seuphor in collaboration with Piet Mondriaan; a film in which women talk about Fes, Casablanca (and indirectly Brussels) by Manon de Boer and Nedjma Hadj; The London Bulletin by E.L.T. Mesens, a children’s book by Floris Jespers and Jan Peeters, a colouring book for adults by Jef Geys, the recollections of a visitor to the Paul Joostens exhibition, etc.; they are records which, now and in the future, change as a result of our perception and can create a ‘Chauvet Cave’ feeling: the cave paintings are the reality and we its fleeting shadows illuminating the reality with a temporary source of light.

Phillip Van den Bossche
Director of Mu.ZEE, Ostend