Middelheim Open Air Museum for Sculpture--page 1 (of four pages)

Page 1:
Armitage, Arp, Belling, Bill, Despiau
Page 2:
Gargallo, Heiliger, Laurens, Lipchitz, Marini
Page 3
Mascherini, Moore, Renoir
Page 4:
Richier, Rodin, Zadkine

Kenneth Armitage, Two Seated Figures, 1957


Jean Arp, Schalenboom [Tree of Bowls]?, 1947-54


Rudolf Belling, Drieklank, 1919


Max Bill, Endless Ribbon, 1953-56


Charles Despiau, Assia, 1937

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© 2008 Mary Ann Sullivan. I have photographed (on site), scanned, and manipulated all the images on these pages. Please feel free to use them for personal or educational purposes. They are not available for commercial purposes.

NEXT to an 11-foot-high hedge, Rodin's ''Balzac'' stands, hunched in his bulky mantle, vertically striped with green tarnish. From the shrubbery, Balzac glares at a sprawled and tumbling Maillol nude (called ''The River'') who seems to be reaching toward another Maillol who is seated, head tilted down, in absent-minded reverie. In an adjacent copse, perhaps the ''King and Queen,'' by Henry Moore, bother very little about their sovereignty, since they are installed on 30 acres with more than 300 other statues at Middelheim Open-Air Museum of Sculpture in Antwerp, Belgium. At the museum's entrance, beyond an arched stone portal, the park's white 18th-century chateau (now the museum's Kasteel Restaurant) could have been plucked from a Manet canvas. On the cafe terrace, prosperous-looking Flemings pose and chat, decked out in crisp cottons and wrinkled linens and lacking only straw boaters or voile parasols. Here a snack of pudding-rich Belgian rice tart will fortify the visitor for meandering. The lawns, full of sculpture, roll out from the foot of the cafe terrace, across a wrought-iron bridge that shelters ducks. In front of the museum's library, Francois Pompon's white marble polar bear (1920) is more eye-catching than its subdued neighbor, Vic Gentils's sculpture of Lode Craeybeckx (the Antwerp mayor who founded the park-museum in 1950), which symbolically portrays the mayor's broad mind and generous heart with a head and chest that are literally wide open. To make a circuit of the park-museum, you can start either toward the left, in the direction of Balzac and the polar bear, or toward the right, beside a tree-shaded stream and through a great rectangular lawn, home to a population of motionless figures. Before stepping onto this field, you may be distracted by crumb-hunting ducks that tend to gather in front of Reinhoud's grotesquely grimacing dwarf (called ''Against One's Will,'' 1965) seemingly formed in contours of saggy drapery. Perhaps you may not notice the low-profile ''Stone Book'' (1980) of Wolfgang Kubach and Anna-Maria Wilmsen. According to the museum's catalogue, the sculptors of this subtle bench-like volume have said, ''A book is taken in the hands and read with the eyes, while the 'Stone Book' is beheld by the eyes and read with the hands.'' And you can almost hear the calm chatter of ''Two Pregnant Women'' (1952, by Charles Leplae), complacent, long-skirted gossips standing in the middle of this lawn. Forever poised, about to approach them, their onlooking neighbor is a contemplative shy woman (''Domestic Worries'') by the Belgian artist Rik Wouters (1882-1916). From a distance, these three genteel matrons seem to be congregated as a single composition. Near Henry Moore's royalty, Rik Wouters's best-known sculpture (inspired by Isadora Duncan) is ''The Crazy Virgin,'' who unselfconsciously kicks her leg forward in wild exuberant gusto. Antwerp's and Brussels' National Museums of Fine Arts and the Community Museum of Ixelles (in Brussels) possess other sculptures by Wouters and also some of his paintings (influenced by Cezanne), drafted with exactitude, but tempered by lightness and lucidity. Over the river and through the wood - in the park's innermost grove - a cozy polygonal pavilion, fitted with pale wood paneling and many windows, enshrines some small fragile sculptures. Within the pavilion, Kathe Kollwitz's ''Pieta'' (1937) and Ernst Barlach's ''Fluteplayer'' (1936) sit side-by-side upon a tabletop - just as these German artists were good friends in real life too. Nearby, on the pavilion's floor, Arturo Martini's terra-cotta ''Woman in the Sun'' (1930) curls stealthy limbs, comfortably nude, except for a rather unfashionable hat. This woman and many other Middelheim statues evoke an outdated version of 20th-century modernity, full of profiles formed from vague parabolas. Outdoors, Marcello Mascherini's statue ''Faune'' (1954) also has such tapered parabolic contours, with long unfettered lines. Inspired by Claude Debussy's music, ''Faune'' is a contorted little guy playing two flutes. But even dwellers of sylvan glades can have accidents, and Mascherini had to re-make ''Faune'' when it was crushed by a fallen tree in 1973. Next to ''Faune'' is Emile-Antoine Bourdelle's ''Herakles Archer'' (1909): the yeoman straddles two boulders, buttressing his hip on one leg, compressing his energy to strain against his bow - although no bowstring is depicted. Settled first in the 14th century, Middelheim is now a ritzy suburb. A family named Le Grelle owned the park in the 1800's and sold it to the city of Antwerp in 1910. Stored motor vehicles eroded and pitted the park's terrain when Belgium was occupied by Germany in the Second World War. Since 1950, the park, within the residential community of Middelheim, has been an open-air museum, reached after a half-hour bus ride from Antwerp's central train station. From the bus stop to the park, you can see splendid neighborhood mansions, remarkable for their status-symbol thatch roofs (difficult to build and expensive to insure), beneath which neo-Art Deco windows peep out like heavy-lidded eyes. Middelheim's outdoor museum is an encapsulated paradise, within this nattily furbished suburb of Belgium's single most cosmopolitan city. At Middelheim, each lawn is an exhibition room with walls made of thick rhododendron borders. Autumn foliage provides a kind of earthy wallpaper for these open-air viewing rooms. Art restoration is a perennial struggle against the birds and the bees (actually, the hares and magpies). The lighting is strictly solar. Air pollution and the weather rub and burnish the statues' surfaces. Given the openness and accessibility of the setting, the ''Do Not Touch'' policy seems a bit startling. ''The Cardinal,'' wrought by Giacomo Manzu in 1952, was easily knocked over by some rowdy college students because, unknown to the curators, the main metal armature was thoroughly rusted. Manzu's ''Lady Iceskater'' (1957) has been twice decapitated by vandals. The first time she lost her head, it was recovered and soldered back on. When it did not turn up after the second swiping, the park's curators contacted Manzu, who had cast the original with the lost-wax method and didn't have a spare copy. So, he modeled the replacement after his girl friend, who had not been the model for the original head. In a center clearing, on a pedestal as high as an average split-level house, ''Pegasus'' by the Swedish sculptor Carl Milles (1875-1955) has a falling, leaping, lunging rider above him, so cleverly attached by his foot to the horse, and displayed so high, that from almost any vantage point around this celestial monument, the rider seems really suspended as if actually in midair, plummeting. Tall trees enfold this grassy arena. Clutching her coat around her, grasping her pocketbook awkwardly, a frowsy life-size bronze woman seems to emerge on a path in the corner of a field. She is ''Ursula'' (1965) by Julio L. Hernandez. Although her monochrome metal color does not make her look real, you may sense her realistically proportioned presence just beyond your shoulder, while you admire sculptures near her. IN the middle of a wide field that could bring you back from the pavilion and Pegasus, to the chateau, ''Running Girl'' (1976, by Kurt Gebauer) pauses in mid-stride, darting forward, frolicking, long hair streaming out behind her, arms jutting out to reach for balance. If she could continue to run, she might cavort with Raymond Duchamp-Villon's ''Big Horse'' (1914). This outdoor museum can accommodate even a statue in high relief, not meant to be free-standing, normally much easier to display in a conventional interior. ''Pieta'' (1932, by Ivan Mestrovic), for example, is niched into a brick garden wall, to be viewed from three sides only. At the other end of the same field, Roel D'Haese's galumphing gigantesque personage ''Jan De Lichte'' (1987) is a shabby vagabond character whose misadventures have been recounted by the 20th-century Flemish writer Louis-Paul Boon. Jan De Lichte's face, diffidently perched atop his tatters, is incongruously too young and small to match his enormous body of a heroic misfit. Visitors may pass bits and pieces of Middelheim on the trip out from Antwerp into the suburbs. Since 1958, ''Middelheimism'' has been a dynamic local movement to integrate artworks, either on loan or specially commissioned, into Antwerp's urban fabric. Halfway to Middelheim, the No. 27 bus passes Antwerp's Province Capitol building, gracefully obscured with a fountain (1981) by the Belgian Pol Bury, who specializes in amalgamations of pouring, tipping metal cylinders. Middelheim curators are working with the city of Antwerp to make an inventory of public art already in place. And a special Middelheim research team is trying to locate and restore 19th-century public sculptures that were warehoused long ago and forgotten. Public statues are an old Antwerp tradition. Around the corner from the 16th-century marketplace, near the harbor, stands the ''Stevedore'' by the Belgian sculptor Constantin Meunier (1831-1905), who celebrated the dignity of everyday laborers.