General and Artistic Director
M HKA, Museum of Contemporary Art Antwerp
Bart De Baere is director of M HKA in Antwerp, the contemporary art museum of the Flemish Community in Belgium. Since its merger with the Centre for Visual Culture in 2003, M HKA is also active within visual culture at large. It calls itself a ‘Eurasian museum’, advocating for a greater European openness towards Asia, that vast Island of which Europe is only a peninsula. M HKA grounds itself in the avant-garde of the period after the Second World War, for which the city of Antwerp was an important hub. This allows us to be open to the multipolar world of today. Previously, he was President of the Flemish Cultural Council. He worked as an advisor for cultural heritage and contemporary art to the Flemish Minister of Culture, rewriting the legislation for those domains. He was President of the Flemish Council for Museums. From 1986 until 2001, he was second in command at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Ghent, then directed by Jan Hoet, where he curated numerous exhibitions, notably ‘This is the show and the show is many things’ (1994). He was one of the curators of Documenta IX in Kassel; consultant for the city of Johannesburg, involved in establishing its first biennial; member of the International Advisory Council for the network of Soros Institutes for contemporary art in Eastern Europe; a co-founder of the Brussels Kunsthalle ‘Wiels’; curator of the 2015 Moscow biennial. Bart De Baere has written and published extensively on art and on institutional issues.
CIMAM has an exceptional position within ICOM, and rightfully so. It reunites directors and curators of museums that articulate contemporary urgencies rather than the ground of canonical thinking. In the typology of museums, those represented by CIMAM now stand out as the perhaps most important group. For society at large, museums of modern and contemporary art have come to symbolise open-mindedness, internationalism and awareness of the future. Today our museums find themselves at a crossroads. Never before has there been such an emphasis on the ‘here and now’, not least in politics. The contemporary is en vogue, often in superficial ways, fleeting, geared towards events and entertainment.
Our museums always do more; they re-enact the past for the present and discover possibilities in artists who may not be ‘of the moment’ but potentially make up the next canon. Museums build fields of reference for generations to come. This contemporary craving for the ‘here and now’ is often translated into narrow-minded conformism, feel-good populism, conservatism… In such circumstances CIMAM may play a crucial role, not only to stand up for colleagues but also, an even more importantly, to develop forceful new thinking and translate it into a strong and internationally grounded rethoric. This will help all our members in their negotiations with the local Powers That Be, and make it easier for us to learn from each other. CIMAM may also develop more technical platforms, an online presence to publicise our individual and joint achievements for everyone’s benefit and illumination.