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  • Writer's pictureTim and Lindsey

Lip SMAKing Good?

Day 678 - We do struggle with modern art, yet are drawn to view it. We have already spent many a time scratching our heads in bemusement/bafflement/astonishment, and any other *ment you can think of, in contemporary art museums around the world. So, today we thought we would give it another go.

Ghent is so small that it is easy to walk to all the main attractions. Fifteen minutes walk through this trendy city and we arrived at S.M.A.K, or Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, to be precise, translation City Museum for Contemporary Art. The museum is celebrating its 20th anniversary so has an exhibition called ‘The Collection (I): Highlights for a Future’ occupying the whole of the museum with about 200 works of art.

One of the first exhibits we viewed was called Chasing the Blue Train, by David Hammons. A large room had a blue miniature train on a track that weaved its way around various lids of grand pianos and through a tunnel covered by a pile of coal. Jazz by John Coltrane and Thelonious Monk played in the background, and I did think that piano music would have been more apt. I didn’t “get” what this represented at all until I pinged the QR sign which directed my phone to the SMAK Collection description.

I learnt that this installation was about the 1920s-30s crisis when thousands of African Americans travelled across America to work in the coalmines. The train track signified the A-subway line connecting Brooklyn to Harlem, a poor, black neighbourhood in New York and the piano lids, one was white amongst brown and black lids, represented the dominance of the rich white minority over the poor black majority. Ah! I get it. Very powerful. It makes such a difference when there is some dialogue as to what the art embodies.

Another room was called Interminável (Portuguese for infinity) by Brazilian artist Artur Barrio. It is a work that can only be created by the artist at the moment in situ. SMAK has an informal agreement that the installation ends when the artist dies. I found the room charged with quite a strong negative emotion; walls smashed, lighting elements intertwined around the room, wine and brick dust was thrown on the walls which also were covered with scribble.

Later, I watched an interview with Philippe Van Cauteren, the Artistic Director of SMAK. He talked about this installation and shared that we live in a society which wants to collect “stuff”, to have more and more things. What he loved about Artur Barrio’s work is that it is about the moment in time. Now, I connected with that!

What we both did like about the exhibition was the diversity of artwork, in the styles, mediums used, and skill involved. One (which you can just see in the bottom left photo) was a "poetic work" of turquoise glitter being thrown across the floor out of a bucket. It is a "Work of contrasts that vibrates between energy and tranquility...". (Really? Perhaps this could be Tim's new career?)

And later....a nice contrast...a bit of nature in the Botanical Gardens. We wandered around the greenhouses (no photos allowed) and recognised quite a few tropical plants we have seen in their natural habitats around the world. A number of the 10,000 species in the gardens here are on the endangered list, so it is a privilege to still be able to see them.

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