Summer Art Festivals In Flanders: What To See and Where to See It

Art is not just for the happy few here in Belgium, as it is a vital asset to everyone’s lives. Places like Middelheim Park in Antwerp for example, make viewing and experiencing art by world class artists easily accessible. This summer, you can save your €45 ticket fare to Art Basel and rather spend it on a nice pot of “mosselen met frietjes” by the sea in the company of installations by some of the most important artists working today.

Beaufort (June 21 – September 21, 2015)

As a native Southern Californian, I can confidently attest that the Belgian coastline is rather unimpressive. Its seemingly Soviet bloc construction outnumbers natural growth along bleek sandy beaches. Inhabited by mostly elderly couples walking their equally as elderly dogs, the atmosphere is really quite dull. In total contrast along this very Belgian coastline every three years is Beaufort, an art festival who calls this strip of land its home and radically transforms the area visually, making it worthwhile for any art lover to visit the beach even on a cloudy day.

Spread over a 65 kilometer long coastline, sculptures and other monumental installations transform it into a whimsical, unusual, and thought-provoking site. This year, Beaufort focuses on the dialogue between the sea, its inhabitants, and the people who encounter it. Some artists I am looking forward to seeing is the architectural collective A Dog Republic, Mark Wallinger, and Moondog, who you need to Google immediately. Artists featured in the past included Ai Wei Wei, Anish Kapoor, and Jan Fabre, the first contemporary artist to be featured at the Louvre.

Triennale Brugge (May 20 – October 18, 2015)

Brugge is everything one would imagine when reading a Grimm’s fairytale. Dubbed ‘Venice of the North’ with its winding canals and Medieval architecture, this city is nothing short of romantic and artistic. It’s also outrageously touristy. Home of the twice looted Madonna of Brugge, many people skip other major cities like Brussels and Antwerp altogether when visiting Belgium (huge mistake, by the way) to experience Brugge in all of its lace-ridden glory.

Aside from its long history and old world atmosphere, Brugge is also on the forefront of the art scene in Belgium as it is home to the Triennale Brugge. The festival utilizes major landmarks and spaces, which provide an interesting backdrop to the very contemporary ideas brought by its featured artists.

The theme this year is a hypothetical question: What would happen if Brugge’s 5 million visitors should suddenly decide to stay? Artists such as Tadashi Kawamata and Studio Mumbai respond to this question by incorporating their work into the city’s infrastructure and building upon it as they explore the city’s potential, future, and sustainability. Other artists I personally look forward to checking out includes Romi Achituv, who imagined a storm to take over Brugge, Rainard Ganahl who has a giant chocolate sculpture in the center of the Burg, and Atelier Bow Wow, a Tokyo based architecture firm who installed a public swimming section in one of the city’s recently cleaned canals. Artwork is spread throughout the city in both indoor and outdoor venues.

Kunsten Festival Watou (July 4 – August 30, 2015)

Next to the French border is Watou, a little artsy village which has in the past hosted artwork by Jan Fabre, Marina Abromovic, Tracey Emin, and Louis Bourgeois at their Kunsten Festival Watou. Similarly to the Brugge Triennale, the town provides an unusual backdrop to the invited artist’s work, as their work is placed in contrasting locations such as a former monastery, a brewery’s cellar, and old 17th century houses. Every year the festival also invites a special guest artist, poet, and/or writer to decorate a giant wall, as a temporary piece of artwork.

The program has not officially been announced yet but according to their Facebook page, the work of Ryan Gander, Chantal Pollier, and Meggy Rustamova will appear.

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