David Altmejd at Middelheim Museum, Antwerp, Belgium
In 2012 the Middelheim Museum added a new exhibition area to its grounds — the Hortiflora flower garden (previously part of the Nachtegalen Park), a formal garden concealed behind a screen of dense foliage. This year the museum’s summer exhibition, My Little Paradise, puts the Hortiflora firmly in the spotlight, for the garden’s design corresponds to the idea of the hortus conclusus, the enclosed garden which in art and literature has been laden with meanings since the Middle Ages. To Erasmus it was a place for introspection and contemplation. To the (once so powerful) Catholic patrons of the arts it was a metaphor for the Annunciation and a representation of the Garden of Eden. While to artists from the Flemish Primitives onwards it offered a terrific opportunity toexperiment with perspective and space.
Today the enclosed garden is associated with quite different things. It has become an ordinary part of our everyday environment, the perfect place to create a little paradise of our own. We do this literally: Flemish gardens, front and back, are famous, notorious even, for their extreme creativity expressed in just a few square meters. But regardless of our geographic possibilities we also cherish the dream (secretly or otherwise) of a place that is determined purely and entirely by our own preferences. A stilt house beneath palm trees, incessant sun, endless leisure, unlimited freedom… Each one more tangible than the next. Our Western fantasies often have an exotic flavour. But one man’s paradise is another man’s purgatory. What’s attractive to one is banal, even disturbing, to another. And what price are we willing to pay for complete freedom from care?
The hortus conclusus is such a seminal motif in art history that the Middelheim Museum could hardly leave the implicit meanings of the new museum grounds unexplored. So together with a group of invited artists we will be examining these to see whether we can chart the consequences for contemporary sculpture (or, more accurately, spatial art).
My Little Paradise gives seven national and international artists the opportunity to reflect about the tension between private and public, the boundaries of personal and psychological space, voluntary isolation and involuntary exclusion. More than sufficient subject matter for an exciting group exhibition designed by Hans Op de Beeck, who is also the first selected artist, and Sara Weyns, curator of the Middelheim Museum.