20120804 0078 Three Art Museums in Ghent, Belgium

Ghent’s Fine Art Museum – MSK

We all know the weather in Belgium can be… unpredictable. So what do you do in Ghent in a downpour? You visit one of these three fantastic art museums in the city centre.

Back in the spring, we visited Ghent’s interactive city museum, STAM and loved it. This time around, I was eager to enjoy some of the art on offer in the city. In addition to exploring Ghent through the TRACK exhibition, we decided to check out the city’s permanent art collection. We started our exploration of Ghent’s galleries at SMAK.

Ghent’s Contemporary Art Gallery SMAK

The people of Ghent do seem to love their acronyms. But let’s face it; the Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, at least not for this Anglophone.

Ghent’s Contemporary Art museum is currently home to TRACK but it also houses a permanent collection. Contemporary Art can be difficult, and not everyone is a fan (my husband included), but SMAK is a great place to test your own boundaries.

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SMAK – Ghent’s Contemporary Art Museum and currently home to TRACK

The space is bright and airy and on two levels. You find yourself walking through a lot of the art, as much of it is sculptural rather than hanging on the walls. There is also a large video art collection.

During our visit, a temporary exhibition was taking up much of the top floor and neither of us particularly enjoyed the work. I did find the ‘Chambres d’Amis’ presentation on the ground floor interesting and would have loved to see it, when it was first presented throughout the city, similar to TRACK, back in 1986.

Unless you take your time watching the video installations, a visit to SMAK will probably take under an hour so it is definitely a bite-sized way to experience some contemporary art. The exhibitions are constantly changing so each visit is a new experience.

Ghent’s Museum of Fine Arts MSK

After our visit to SMAK, I had to appease Andrew’s need to look at something he understood. Luckily, Ghent’s Museum of Fine Arts (Museum voor Schone Kunsten) or MSK is right across the street.

The permanent collection of MSK is laid out in a logical way and takes the visitor on an artistic tour of European art from the Middle Ages to the early 20th century. The collection is heavily weighted towards Belgian artists and, as such, gives a great overview of the art of this country throughout the ages.

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You can’t help but be impressed by the scale of these early religious paintings.

You begin with a look at religious art in the late Middle Ages up to Hieronymus Bosch in the 1500s. From there, you move into the Renaissance period and onto Baroque and Realism of the 1600s. In the 1800s the collection focuses on Neoclassicism, Romanticism and Impressionism and ends with a small collection dedicated to James Ensor. Finally, the first half of the 1900s is represented by expressionism, abstract and surrealism, including one of René Magritte’s lesser-known pieces.

All of this art is showcased in a beautiful building and we couldn’t help admiring the architecture as much as the artworks.

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The MSK’s architecture is as beautiful as the art it contains.

In the basement, you’ll also find access to the Mub’art Brasserie. We were lucky to have the sun shining down on us so we could enjoy a bite to eat and a drink on the small terrace. (I can highly recommend the goat cheese balls with raspberry dressing.)

Starting in the autumn of 2012, the MSK will be undertaking the restoration of Ghent’s most famous artwork, the Adoration of the Mystic Lamb, by the Van Eyck brothers. Visitors will be able to watch the process as the restorers work behind glass. The remaining panels will still be on display at St. Bravo’s Cathedral and you can learn more about the painting’s chequered history at the STAM.

Visiting the Design Museum Gent

Our last museum stop in Ghent took us back to the historic city centre. In fact, Design Museum Gent is located inside the 18th century Hotel de Coninck, and our first impression was of stepping into the home of a wealthy Flemish family, in the 1700s.

This part of the Design Museum has been restored and preserved and is filled with period furniture. However, walking down the corridor into the museum’s new extension transports you into a different world. Here we found a bright, white, open space on four levels, filled top to bottom with interesting bits of Belgium’s design history.

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This table setting is a beautiful example of the useful objects on display at the Design Museum Gent.

In this museum, the art is functional – from furniture to flatware and everything in between. We were particularly taken by the two fully recreated Art Nouveau rooms and the extensive collection of glassware from the same period.

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We loved these two Art Nouveau rooms

Some of the more modern pieces were fanciful, but some, we recognised as contemporary objects from our own home and the homes of our friends. It was interesting to view what we consider everyday objects as design pieces.

So, even if the rain tries to dampen your spirits, there is plenty to do inside Ghent’s museums. If you are lucky enough to see some sun in Ghent, don’t let that stop you from taking a few hours to enjoy these three wonderful art museums.

The Details

SMAK
Citadelpark
9000, Gent
Opening Hours: Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm (Closed on Monday).
Admission: € 6: individual visitor
                        € 4,5: groups from 15 persons, under-25s, over-60s, students
                        Free: Children up to 18 years

MSK Museum of Fine Arts
Fernand Scribedreef 1
Citadelpark
9000 Ghent
Opening Hours: Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm (Closed on Monday).
Admission: € 5: individual visitor
                        € 3.75: groups from 15 persons, over-55s, Ghent residents
                        € 1: Young people aged 19-26
                        Free: Children up to 18 years

Design Museum Gent
Jan Breydelstraat 5
9000 Ghent
Opening Hours: Tuesday through Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm (Closed on Monday).
Admission: € 5: individual visitor
                        € 3.75: groups from 15 persons, over-55s, Students aged 19-26
                        Free: Children up to 18 years