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La Boverie: A look inside Liège's new arts museum

Nov 27, 2016
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New centre aims to present quality exhibitions with an international focus

Liège’s fine arts museum opened to crowds and warm sunshine this summer, the latest in an ambitious series of urban redevelopments that are revitalising the city. In a landscaped park on an island bearing the same name, La Boverie is easily accessible via La Belle Liégoise, a walkway inaugurated days before the museum itself. The cycle and footpath links the Calatrava railway station with the Médiacité shopping and media complex, providing an unparalleled view of the city.

In its first month, La Boverie registered 25,000 visitors. Its mission is to present quality exhibitions with an international focus that will shine a light on the Liège metropolis. It has replaced the modern and contemporary arts museum Mamac, which closed in 2013. The original Neoclassical building was erected for the World Expo in 1905. While the elegant exterior remains, the €27.6 million renovation has enlarged the interior, most dramatically with a contemporary extension overlooking the Meuse.

'A smile directed at Liège'

Designed by French architect Rudy Ricciotti, an outspoken enfant terrible in francophone architecture and winner of the national grand prix of architecture in 2006, the gleaming glass structure is raised on stilts, appearing to float above its surroundings. Thanks to this extension, says Ricciotti, “the museum looks towards the water and the most popular part of Liège. It should be lit up all night so this wing is like a smile directed at Liège.”

Though it was his intention to maintain the original building, he felt it was necessary “to renew confidence in its heritage”. He was joined in the project by Liège architects p.HD. They deepened the basement area to house the city’s extensive art collections and an auditorium, while the main space is devoted to temporary exhibitions.

It has been entirely refurbished, with the walls painted white and the floor now a polished concrete surface. The annex, currently containing two alcoves with works from the temporary exhibition, is earmarked for contemporary installations. It can also stage receptions and events, a function prioritised by its architect. Ricciotti: “Between exhibitions, the museum must live. It should be left empty to hear the beat of the drum and rock and be used for partying.”

The temporary exhibition space affords glimpses of the surrounding park and landscaped gardens, including a shallow pond designed to create the effect of a mirror of water. It could serve as an outdoor exhibition space in the future. Other facilities on this floor include a boutique and cafe with a terrace overlooking the park.

Exceptional works

Meanwhile, highlights of the city’s permanent art collections are on show in the 1,600m2 exhibition space below. La Boverie has enabled the reunion of extensive collections from various museums in the city: the Musée des Beaux-Arts, the Musée de L’Art Wallon, the Cabinet des Estampes et de Dessins and the Fonds d’Art Ancien. It is the first time in more than 50 years that the works, numbering 6,000 and 40,000 prints, have been brought together.

Arranged chronologically, from the Renaissance via Impressionism and Surrealism to the 20th century, a selection are on display here. After the luminosity of the upper exhibition space, the lack of light is at first disconcerting; the space is dimmed to preserve the rarer paintings. A dark gallery is reserved for drawings, gouaches, prints and other fragile works, functioning with light sensors. Among the highlights are Liège artists Lambert Lombard, Gérard de Lairesse and Gilles-François Closson, and fellow Belgians René Magritte and Paul Delvaux.

Liège possesses some exceptional works, including Picasso’s The Soler Family, and Impressionist and Modern works by Gaugin, Chagall, Monet, Kokoschka, Ensor and Ingres. Their acquisition is a fascinating insight into the changing fortunes of the art world in the mid-20th century. hanks to a philanthropic group of wealthy industrialists, the city purchased nine outstanding works, including the Picasso, at an auction in Lucerne in 1939. The paintings were sold by Germany because they were classed as degenerate art by Hitler.

With money remaining in their pockets, the Liège delegation added to this treasure trove by buying further works at a sale in Paris in August of the same year. These included paintings by de Vlaminck, Ensor, Signac, Utrillo and Guillaumin.

Future exhibitions will also take advantage of these permanent collections. Further collaborations with the Louvre include Voyage en Italie next year, which will present works from the 16th to 20th century in the footsteps of Liège court painter Lambert Lombard. A third exhibition in 2018 will be devoted to Art Mosan.

This article first appeared in WAB (Wallonia and Brussels) magazine

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