M just for you

Welcome back in M

We have mapped out a safe route for you. You will have so much space that it will seem as though the art is there for you alone. The route runs along the collection presentations 'Take your Time', 'Moved', 'Madness'‘Form first’, 'The Seven Sacraments' and ‘Body Language’. Afterwards your can visit our new exhibition 'Rodin, Meunier & Minne' and the solo exhibition by the Angolan artist Kiluanji Kia Henda.


Explanatory texts are provided below. If you would like your own copy, you can download and print them here.


Enjoy M and share your experience with #mleuven.

Gallery 0.A

Take your Time

It might feel as if time stands still in a museum, but nothing could be further from the truth. Time is an essential element of every work of art. Some works of art tell us something about time itself, like the calendar dial and a vanitas still life, where time is explicitly or symbolically represented. Other works of art tell stories. A story unfolds within a given time, what is called ‘narrated time’. Sometimes the story is about a journey that lasted for weeks, sometimes it is about a fleeting moment. For centuries artists have been developing visual strategies to represent this time-related aspect in their work.


An artwork also has a given amount of time to tell its story: the ‘narrative time’. In films and video installations that time is the length of the projection. However, in other artworks, more ‘static’ objects like sculptures and paintings, narrative time appears to be absent. Here it is determined by the spectator, the time he or she takes to look. Sometimes we only cast a cursory glance, sometimes we look for a very long time. Research has revealed that the average time a museum visitor stands in front of a painting is 28.63 seconds, including the time for selfies.  


This presentation invites you to explore the aspect of time in art. Not only how artists have worked with time in their creations, but also to find out how long you yourself spend looking. We invite you to become aware of the time you need to look and also to take a close(r) look.

Galleries 0.B - 0.C


Have you ever walked for hours with your classmates behind a saint, a pair of wings attached to your back? Have you ever dressed Jesus, rocked him to sleep or laid him in his grave? Or offered up your best jewellery to a bleeding Host? Times change... Until relatively recently, religion played an important role in the daily life of most people in the Christian West. Life was lived on a much more limited geographic scale. Religious feast days and rituals dictated the calendar and brought communities together.


Since 2017 M Leuven’s rich and diverse collection has been changed around on a regular basis in themed presentations so as to tell even more stories. Many objects from the collection are religious in origin and derive from local churches and chapels.


This exhibition showcases religious art and heritage objects made to move literally and figuratively, from the cradle to the grave. Under the three broad themes of procession, pilgrimage and devotion, the presentation brings together unusual objects that used to play a role in religious rituals: dressed and moving images, the wardrobe and accessories of statues of saints, relics and their cult objects, the paraphernalia of processions, house altars, etc.

Often fragile, tactile, costly and artisanal in nature, each of these extraordinary objects induced an intense religious experience both publicly and behind closed doors and by their movement moved people spiritually.


The context and uses of many of the objects have been lost over time, and so the audio tour and labels help contextualize these now obsolete practices. Furthermore, the presentation opens with images of similar traditions, worldwide and contemporary.   

Gallery 0.D

Madness. Students at M.

Welcome. You’ll find madness in this room.


In this difficult age, we all run into insane boundaries every day. We – ten students – found a place at M where we could challenge ourselves and take unfamiliar paths. Our exhibition shows the many faces of insanity we experienced in art.


Each of us offers a way of looking for you to explore. Some of the insanity will move you. Some will provoke you and bring out the lunatic within. It plays devil’s advocate to undermine preconceptions, confronts you with delusions and makes you abandon a few stereotypes. Yet it was insanity too that offered us the freedom to tell our story.


We’re curious whether you, the visitor, will be prepared to join us and find your own way.


We went in search of madness. Will you find the art in insanity with us?


Thanks to our restoration partners Delen Private Bank and M-Life.

Galleries O.I - O.H - O.G

Form first

How do you set about impressing distinguished guests? Centuries ago a collector would have done so by inviting you to admire his most precious objects and artefacts brought together in a sumptuous cabinet. On show in these nineteenth-century salons of Mayor Leopold Vander Kelen and his wife Maria Mertens are treasures from M’s collection of applied arts. Here we invite you to take a fresh look at utilitarian objects.


We put the spotlight on the function, materials and form of objects. How do you use a windmill cup? What is a samovar used for? Since when have we eaten with a fork? And what messages can you communicate with a fan?

No information about the material, the maker or the date is provided with these objects. Trust your eyes. What can you deduce by taking a good look at the form and the material of an object?

Sharpen your senses: look and discover more about the objects’ form, function and materials.


In the halls of this exhibition you can find reflective questions. Find them and let your imagination run wild.


With works from the Cera Collection.

Gallery 0.F

The Seven Sacraments

You may have heard of the Seven Sacraments: seven sacred acts in the Catholic faith, which according to Catholic theology were instituted by Christ himself. Symbolizing the most important transitional rituals in the life of believers, the sacraments strengthen man’s bond with God and with the religious community. These rituals are Baptism, Confirmation, Penance (Confession), Holy Communion or Eucharist, Ordination, Matrimony and Anointing of the Sick.   


These seven sacraments once structured daily life in Catholic Europe. You will be familiar with at least some of them. For example, there is a chance that you yourself have been christened and confirmed, or have attended a christening or confirmation service. Perhaps you have also been to mass, or you know people who regularly go to Communion. Other sacraments may be less familiar. Have you ever been to confession, for example? And do you know what anointing the sick entails?  For someone in the past the answers would have been obvious. 


Each sacrament is celebrated by a specific ritual or celebration, accompanied by the relevant liturgical objects. In this gallery you will discover a number of objets d’art from the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, which were integral to the rituals and practices around the seven sacraments. The pièce de résistance has to be the Seven Sacraments Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden (1399/1400 – 1464), a masterpiece of medieval art, which has been a guest of honour at M since 2009. Allow your eyes to wander over the painting and live the fifteenth-century, seven sacraments experience.   

Galleries 1.F - 1.E - 1.D - 1.C

Body Language

Since time immemorial the human body has been a favourite theme in the visual arts, both as subject and conveyor of meaning. The body of a performance artist is even a medium in its own right.    


How do artists portray the body? How do they use their body to communicate? Do we decipher the poses and gestures correctly and what influences our reading of body language? We explore these and other questions by looking at early and contemporary works from the M Collection. 


Furthermore, four professionals who deal with body language on a daily basis give us their perspective on the many aspects of this non-verbal communication.   


If you are inspired by the poses, gestures and facial expressions, why not share your impressions and favourites at #detaalvanhetlichaam #lelangageducorps #bodylanguage


Curators: Lore Boon and Ko Goubert


With works from the Cera Collection.

With the support of Delen Bank.

Galleries 1.J - 1.K - 1.L - 1.M

Rodin, Meunier & Minne

Three readings of the Middle Ages

The end of the nineteenth century marked the beginning of a revolution that was to lead to modern sculpture. Increasingly, artists reacted against classical academic sculpture and developed a highly personal artistic idiom. This innovation was inspired partly by the art of the Middle Ages.


Auguste Rodin (1840 – 1917), Constantin Meunier (1831 – 1905 ) and George Minne (1866 – 1941) were pioneers in this revolution. Each in his own way borrowed elements of images from the Middle Ages and integrated them into his artistic idiom.


In this presentation, works by Rodin, Meunier and Minne are juxtaposed with sculptures from the Middle Ages, thereby bringing to light significant and sometimes unexpected parallels between the two. These parallels are reinforced by quotes from art critics, which you will find spread over the exhibition.


In addition to the artistic idiom itself, the three sculptors also drew inspiration from medieval themes like loss, mourning and leave-taking. This led us to the idea of asking a number of poets to write poems inspired by the sculptures in this exhibition. You can listen to the poems on the audio-guide or on this page.

The Middle Ages rediscovered

The rediscovery of the Middle Ages and people’s fascination with that period started during the eighteenth century. This renewed interest was stimulated by literature and architecture. Strawberry Hill House in Twickenham, London was built by the English man of letters Horace Walpole (1717 -1797) as his vision of a medieval castle. He was also the author of The Castle of Otranto, a Gothic Story, the world’s first Gothic novel. The genre became all the rage in the nineteenth century, as exemplified by Dracula by Bram Stokers (1847 -1912) and Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1791 -1851).


As a reaction to rationalism in the first half of the nineteenth century, the romantic movement sought inspiration in the mysticism of medieval Europe.  All over Europe books like The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo (1802 -1885) and  Génie du christianisme by François-René de Chateaubriand (1768 -1848) fuelled interest in that era.


Scientific books followed some while later. The compendia on the art of the Middle Ages published by Emile Mâle (1862 – 1954) and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc (1814 – 1879), for instance, gave rise to a more objective view of medieval visual language.


All this also inspired nineteenth-century architects, artists and designers and ushered in neo-Gothic art production.

Constantin Meunier: between tradition and innovation

Today Constantin Meunier (1831 – 1905) is best remembered as a sculptor with a social conscience, even though for much of his career he painted bourgeois and religious themes in a neo-Gothic and realistic tradition. His stays with the Trappist priests in Westmalle illustrate his longing for religious spirituality.


In the 1880s Meunier turned increasingly to sculpture. He swapped religious subjects for socially-inspired themes, often drawing on medieval representations from the history of art. He gave religious motifs a contemporary interpretation.


An example of this is Firedamp. The sculpture depicts a mother grieving over her dead son after the mine disaster at La Boule coalmine in the Borinage in 1887. The representation of the mother mourning the loss of her son recalls the  traditional representation from the history of art of the Pietà, the mourning of Christ by Mary. The relationship with the latter type of sculpture is emphasized by the loincloth worn by the otherwise naked son and the wounds in his side. Also the fact that the son is shown in recumbent position harks back to medieval representations of the Pietà and Christ in the tomb. So Meunier brings tradition and topicality together in the sculpture. As with the traditional Pietà, Meunier asks the viewer to empathize with the mother’s suffering on the death of her son.    

George Minne: portrait of a spiritual life

Even during his lifetime, George Minne (1866 – 1941) was described as a “Gothic soul”. The influence of the Middle Ages on his work is unmistakable and examples of the relationship between his oeuvre and the Middle Ages are manifold.


Minne’s sculptures are reminiscent of the bodies depicted by the Flemish Masters. His figures are frail, dematerialized almost, unlike the powerful bodies created by Rodin and Meunier. Iconographically, too, Minne drew inspiration from the Middle Ages. Thus the Man with a Water Sack derives from the iconography of John the Baptist, while the recurrent theme of mother and child references illustrations and sculptures of medieval Madonnas.


Besides working as a sculptor, Minne also illustrated books for the symbolists Maurice Maeterlinck (1862 -1949) and Emile Verhaeren (1855 -1916). Like Minne’s illustrations, the texts also clearly show a nostalgia for the Middle Ages.

Auguste Rodin: freedom of expression

In his work Les Cathédrales de France (1914, Cathedrals of France), Auguste Rodin (1840 -1917) referred to medieval sculptors as his real masters. He was particularly interested in the art of the end of the Middle Ages. Unlike the art of the thirteenth century, which only touched on the radiant sides of Christianity, that of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries took suffering and pain as its main subject.


The Burghers of Calais and Christ and Mary Magdalene were high points in Rodin’s career thanks to the study he made during his travels in France, Belgium and Italy of representations of Christ’s suffering from the late Middle Ages.


In refusing to soften his portrayal of suffering, Rodin’s art differs both from the heroic artistic concept of Greek antiquity, which was opposed to putting in jeopardy the equilibrium of the human body by extreme representations of pain, as well as from the nineteenth-century ideal of beauty promoted by the Académie des Beaux-Arts. Rodin defended a personal point of view in the discussion of the aesthetic of the ugly put forward by Eugène Delacroix (1789 – 1863), Charles Baudelaire (1821 – 1867) and others in the nineteenth century. According to Rodin, ugliness does not exist in nature; it only appears during the course of an artistic creation that tries to idealize nature. So for Rodin, as for the medieval artists, the study after nature, the practice of following nature was the only possible starting point. In respecting these principles, Rodin created his Burghers of Calais and Monument to Balzac, which have been criticized for their ‘ugly’ expression.

Pleurants: medieval and modern icons

The pleurant – or weeper - is one of the most iconic themes from the Middle Ages. From the thirteenth to the sixteenth centuries these figures decorated the tombs of the French and Burgundian high nobility.


Pleurants are mourners, usually sunk in prayer as they seemingly accompany the deceased in a funeral cortege. By adding them to the tomb, the deceased could be sure that he or she would be remembered even after death. This idea ties in with the Ars moriendi or the art of a good death, an important precept in the late Middle Ages.


It is hardly surprising that these expressive figures had a great influence on artists in the nineteenth century. For example, we know that Auguste Rodin not only made studies of pleurants in Parisian museums, but he also had a pleurant from the tomb of the Duc de Berry in his own collection.


There are visible similarities between the figures in Rodin’s The Burghers of Calais and the medieval pleurants. Minne’s Three Women at the Tomb and Meunier’s Sorrow are clearly based on this type of image too.

Galleries 2.A - 2.B

Kiluanji Kia Henda

Kiluanji Kia Henda (°1979, Luanda, Angola) explores issues of today’s society in a unique and engaging manner, encouraging critical thinking. His work encompasses a wide range of themes such as politics, identity and the complex relationship between Africa and the West, often evoked in a poetic or satirical manner. The artist mostly uses photography, video and installation, all of which are present in this first Belgian solo exhibition.


Having grown up in Angola during the civil war following the independence, Kia Henda’s art is grounded in the history of his country. It is also the outcome of a worldwide journey, as foreign influences have been shaping Angola for centuries, from Portuguese colonisation to today’s Chinese-built cities. This global aspect pervades the artist’s work, exposing the power dynamics between countries and continents, including the various tools used to assert supremacy.


While he started out as a self-taught street photographer, Kia Henda outgrew his initial documentary approach and developed increasingly universal storylines. Subverting history and interweaving elements of fiction into fact gave rise to new creative possibilities, displaying humour and irony. This is how the artist came to found an imaginary organisation called O.R.G.A.S.M. (Organisation of African States for Mellowness, 2011-2013) and present photographic evidence of an Angolan space mission to the sun that never took place (Icarus 13, 2008).


At M, the artist shows both recent and earlier work in two galleries. While the art on display takes on very different forms, the works share a startling quality, prompting us to interrogate what we see and look beyond appearances. The political undertone becomes manifest when we begin to perceive contemporary themes: migration, exclusion and the relationship between nature and culture. As geopolitical references are rendered suggestive and forms tend towards abstraction, the questions raised by Kiluanji Kia Henda acquire a universal, timeless dimension.


Curator: Eva Wittocx

2.A The Isle of Venus, 2018

In the midst of the city, the artist presents us with an island, albeit an industrial one, with its concrete blocks echoing the buildings outside. A siren call attracts our attention as we encounter the island’s inhabitants, small white statues. Their colourful appearance and smooth texture contrasts with the rough surroundings, adding a touch of gaiety and playfulness to the grey ensemble, named The Isle of Venus. The title is borrowed from a canto of The Lusiads by Camões, Portugal’s famous epic poem celebrating Vasco da Gama’s explorations. Camões’ mythical isle invites Portuguese sailors to a feast of love with ocean nymphs.


Kiluanji Kia Henda’s island proves to be rather less welcoming, and the title ironic. The siren call turns out to be the Angolan song Monami about a mother lamenting the loss of her child, a haunting rendering of grief and powerlessness punctuated by bursts of white noise. The statues’ bright colour comes from condoms (camisas-de-vênus in Portuguese), markers of separation and sterility. Underneath this protection, replicas of famous sculptures in European art history can be identified, such as the Venus of Milo and David. It is not an isle of love, but a barren fortress we are facing, a rising wall of bricks safeguarding its treasures.


A place under lock and key surrounded by the sea, the wish to keep monuments and, by extension, European arts and culture ‘untouched and unspoilt’… What we witness here raises questions about the stance adopted by some European countries towards migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea, when they are considered as foreign elements to be kept out.


On the gallery wall, a series of photographs repetitively hints at the inherent danger. Black rectangles obliterate parts of the sea, alluding to meaninglessness and death. The presence of these rectangles can also be interpreted as a form of censorship. Our position between the unattainable island and the multitude of blacked-out, yet all too significant pictures is an invitation to take a stand.

2.A Mare Nostrum (Black Birds), 2019

At first glance, this monumental composition strikes us as abstract, with its range of monochrome squares and irregular pitch-black surfaces. Upon closer inspection, we recognise a mountainous landscape in the background. With its creases and folds, the natural scenery contrasts with the seemingly artificial black forms, evoking black birds or their shadows. Surprisingly, these black silhouettes were not integrated into the images by means of digital editing. In fact, what we see are large pieces of black fabric laid out on white saltworks, photographed by the artist in the Camargue, a Mediterranean wetland in France.


The attempt at integration of a black entity into a white landscape is rich in symbolism. It alludes to migrants crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Seen in this light, the salt marshes come across as insurmountable mountains, halting an element perceived as foreign. The crosslike colour spectrum ranging from white to black includes different shades of grey, inviting us to reject a dichotomous view of the world.


The title of the work prompts further reflection. The Latin term Mare Nostrum (‘Our Sea’) was used by the Romans to qualify ‘their’ Mediterranean Sea, thereby asserting ownership over a natural element. It is also the name given to a year-long naval and air operation launched by the Italian government to control migration. As is often the case in Kiluanji Kia Henda’s work, the historical reference functions as a commentary on a contemporary issue, encouraging us to question nations, borders and the resulting tensions.

Entrance 2.B The Geometric Ballad of Fear, 2019

In this photographic series, geometric motifs cover seaside scenes, receding into the background. While the monochromatic colour scheme has a unifying effect, it does not suffice to lessen the contrast between the artificial surface and the natural world it separates us from.


The seaside snapshots were taken by Kiluanji Kia Henda during a residency in Sardinia. By digitally altering the images and applying a repetitive decorative pattern, he turns the island into an unreachable place, with the black and white photography heightening the sense of unbridgeable distance.


With the migrants’ crossings in mind, the gridlike pattern gains new significance. Seen in this light, the natural border marked by the Mediterranean Sea is rendered impassable by man-made bars, reinforcing the island’s inaccessibility.


These bars are not less present because we know them to be absent in nature. Are the most deeply entrenched borders not always a product of the mind? The fear alluded to in the title refers to the emotion accompanying a dangerous journey. At the same time, it denounces one of the driving forces behind the human decision to draw up and implement boundaries that are essentially mental.

2.B Paradise Metalic, 2014, duration 24’40”

Dutch and French translations of the English text in the video are available here.


In this four-channel video installation, the artist’s earliest work on display at M, we are invited to join a mysterious figure introduced to us as ‘The Man with the Shovel’ on a journey punctuated by visions and awakenings. Or is it one long dream? In this visual tale, it is hard to draw the line between fact and fiction. The Man with the Shovel follows his imagination without question. From the outset, his purpose is clear: build his ideal city in the middle of the desert.


In a first attempt to mark his territory, The Man with the Shovel traces a circle in the sand. These tentative borders disappear into the desert. A second attempt involves the erection of a brick wall, literally built according to human measure. This proves not only unsuccessful but also destructive. In the end, The Man has his assistants construct a metallic structure, modulating the landscape ‘according to his desires’. The highly graphic construction is revelatory in its emptiness, retaining a virtual quality.


Have we just witnessed a duel between man and nature? The struggle for power dominates this allegory. Paradise Metalic invites us to reflect on the consequences of trying to impose something without taking reality into account, in this case a man-made construction inflicted upon the desert. The metallic skyline rising from the sand symbolises futuristic cities at odds with their environment. These artificial settlements are easily replicated, a copy-and-paste property emphasised by the visual multiplicity on the gallery wall.


Dubai comes to mind as the archetype of this kind of urban planning and architecture which has spread throughout the world. Kiluanji Kia Henda witnessed the phenomenon first-hand in Luanda, his hometown in Angola, where the Chinese-built satellite city Kilamba long remained a ghost town. Angola also served as an inspiration for the artist on another level. The tracings at the beginning of the video and the outlines of the construction are reminiscent of traditional Sona drawings (ideographs in the sand), highlighting the artist’s appropriation of local elements to tell universal stories.