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 'Impressive!'. And also the two new contemporary art exhibitions 'HOUSE OF CARD' by Thomas Demand and 'Fair Game' by Ericka Beckman.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
There is more to M than you think. In the museum rooms you can currently discover some 300 objects from the collection. That’s just the tip of the iceberg, because M manages a rich and diverse collection of more than 53,000 objects. Around 25,000 of these are prints and drawings on paper: a veritable treasure trove of images and stories, from the late Middle Ages to the present day. But because paper is very fragile, they rarely see daylight.
In recent years we have worked hard to map out this extensive collection, to preserve it and to restore it where necessary. You can discover the results of this work here.
‘Impressive!’ introduces you to this hidden collection and to the work done by volunteers to preserve and show the valuable prints with the greatest care.
Here you get a unique look behind the scenes of M. After all, managing a collection of 25,000 works on paper takes a lot of time and customised care. Fortunately, we don’t do this alone. The driving force behind the cabinet of prints and drawings is a competent and diverse team of volunteers. Under the guidance of M’s collection staff, they take care of all the prints. According to the highest standards, each work is carefully examined, described, inventoried, digitised and packaged. In this room volunteers continue to work on the registration, preservation and imaging of the collection.
M’s cabinet of prints and drawings is a nice sample of the various (printing) techniques and materials from 1500 to the present day. Correct identification of these is often crucial for the preservation and possible restoration of a print.
But how do you recognise a (printing) technique? And what materials were used by the artist? These are questions that the volunteers ask themselves while examining the prints. Here you will discover four common printing techniques, and what you need to pay attention to in order to recognise them.
Thanks to a team of volunteers, we manage to preserve the prints and drawings in the very best conditions. This is necessary because paper is highly sensitive to light, air and moisture. If exposed to it for long periods of time, the material can easily become acidic and discoloured. That is why we store all prints in acid-free boxes, keep the humidity level constant and regularly check for insects. But additional measures are also necessary in the museum rooms: the light is always dimmed and the prints are stored every three months and replaced by others. This has the advantage that, for the duration of ‘Impressive!’, a wide and diverse selection of prints can be shown to the public.
To ensure that all prints are always available for further research, each work is also scanned or photographed. This makes it digitally accessible at all times, even when the print is safely stored away again.
25,000 prints went through the hands of volunteers. Always with the aim of describing, digitising and preserving the works. Because of this unique connection with the objects, they are the perfect signposts for the collection.
Together with the curator, they selected several themes and accompanying prints that are closely linked to the identity of the collection. The selection you see here reflects the wealth of images and stories in the gallery of prints.
Is architecture a subject in the oeuvre of Thomas Demand? Or is it rather a system within his work, aimed at shaping space? These questions lie at the heart of ‘HOUSE OF CARD’. For the first time, the exhibition explicitly places architecture in relation to the artistic practice of Thomas Demand. It provides an overview of his different approaches to building over the past fifteen years. Demand’s works focus on the model, the décor or scenography, although his buildings are also inextricably linked to architecture.
At the same time, ‘HOUSE OF CARD’ highlights the similarities between Demand’s projects and those of other artists or architects such as Martin Boyce, Arno Brandlhuber, Caruso St John and Rirkrit Tiravanija.
The title refers to the precariousness of Demand’s practice as a builder. Whereas architecture generally equates with permanence, Demand prefers to explore the limits of the ephemeral, as is evidenced in his use of paper and cardboard. It is with these materials that Demand, in his studio, recreates full-scale models from found media images: generally witnesses of important events from a recent past. He records these models on camera and subsequently destroys them. Demand’s final photographic images exhibit no traces of time or the building process; in this way they deliberately create distance in relation to the photographs they are supposed to depict.
The model is a way of representing the complexity of a society in a filtered manner. Think, for example, of the political, medical or financial models that are shaping our everyday lives. The model - in this broader sense of the word - lies at the heart of the work of Thomas Demand. In ‘Model’, Thomas Demand has, for the first time, brought the concept of the model more explicitly to the fore in his oeuvre. It is a photograph of a scale model that in its turn represents a scale model. In this sense, the work heralds the later series of ‘Model Studies’.
The model is based on a scale model that was used for political propaganda. It represents the German pavilion designed by Third Reich architect Albert Speer for the 1937 World Fair in Paris. There, the German pavilion would be situated directly opposite that of the Soviet Union, which led Speer to design a soaring building that would tower above all others. The low camera angle that is maintained in ‘Model’ further enhances the structure’s loaded character. Demand realised the work in the year the Expo 2000 World Fair took place in Hanover: at a time when the construction of national pavilions was called into question in the public debate in Germany.
In ‘Embassy’, Thomas Demand no longer limits the construction of the space to the boundaries of the photograph. It is the first installation that has been expressly created for a specific spatial setting that is meant to intensify the significance of the images.
‘Embassy’ consists of nine photographs that depict the embassy of Niger in Rome, from the façade to the corridors and the interior. For the first time, the pictures used in ‘Embassy’ are not found media images: rather, they were taken during Demand’s visit to the embassy. This was the very place where, in 2001, a theft occurred of blank headed paper, later used to create false contracts. These papers were meant to prove that Saddam Hussein, as President of Iraq, was trying to acquire uranium from Africa. It were these forged documents that were later used by US President George W. Bush as an argument in support of war.
Demand created the installation ‘Embassy’ in collaboration with the German architect Arno Brandlhuber. Demand’s images can be seen within a configuration of walls that, in terms of placement, follow the camera perspective of the photos on display. Guided by Brandlhuber’s architecture and Demand’s sculptures, the visitor is led through a construction, a manipulation of an unknown piece of recent history. In this way, it makes current topics such as fake news very tangible.
Since 2011, Thomas Demand has developed several series of ‘Model Studies’, works in which the concept of the model takes a central place as the space between creative idea and execution. In ‘Model Studies’, Demand abandons his usual practice. Here, for the first time, he does not photograph his own self-built scale models, but rather those of other artists, architects and designers. Often, these models present projects that were never realised: they illustrate a potential, a possibility.
Demand’s ‘Model Studies’ are not nostalgic musings; rather they document Demand’s chance encounters with the work of these artists. Unlike in most of his photographs, the camera’s position is no longer frontal and remote, but rather up close to the various scale models. This results in series of images that appear abstract and resolutely tactile through the textures and materials he depicts.
In the next room, ‘Model Studies I’ (2011), based on the work of the American architect John Lautner, is on display together with the sculpture ‘Do Words Have Voices’ (2011) by the British artist Martin Boyce. Both works were first shown together as an installation at the Venice Biennale of Architecture in 2012. ‘Model Studies II’ (2015) is based on the work
of the Japanese architectural firm SANAA. The series is on display in a second room in which the wallpaper alters the spatial experience of the room through the repetition of a folded motif. In a third room is presented the most recent series, ‘Model Studies IV’ (2020), which draws on the work of Tunesian fashion designer Azzedine Alaïa.
A few years ago, Thomas Demand received an open invitation from the textile company Kvadrat to realise an architectural intervention in the landscape surrounding its head office in the Danish town of Ebeltoft. The artist’s concept was based on a pictural idea that was as simple as it was metaphorical: the tent as a textile building. In collaboration with the British architectural firm Caruso St John, he then worked out this concept and realised three pavilions. The three buildings were designed in the form of a folded sheet of paper, a paper plate and a paper hat, respectively. All three are objects of use that follow the logic of paper or cardboard: materials that are consistent with Demand’s visual arts practice.
While the ‘Kvadrat Pavilions’ are currently being built in Ebeltoft, here, in this room, the process of their creation is documented. The display case, for example, contains sketches, paper models of the buildings or postcards of tents: a form of architecture in which Demand immersed himself for some time. There are also prototypes of details of the interior such as door handles or light fittings which were entirely crafted under his creative control. Finally, a plaster model illustrates the undulations of the landscape and the location of the three pavilions.
Ten years before the ‘Kvadrat Pavilions’, Thomas Demand and the British architectural firm Caruso St John had already worked together on ‘Nagelhaus’. This project for the public space was originally intended for the Escher-Wyss-Platz in Zurich, Switzerland. Demand and Caruso St John envisaged a modern version of a Chinese pavilion, whose appearance made reference to a so-called Nagelhaus. In 2007, ‘the most stubborn nail in history’ made world news when private owners of a small house in Chongqing, China, unexpectedly resisted developers who were planning to build a shopping centre in the area. All surrounding buildings were demolished and the house remained alone in an empty construction site.
Although the commission had reached an advanced stage, ‘Nagelhaus’ met with resistance from the Zurich city council and was never realised. This room presents an example of the controversial ‘Nagelhaus’ on the basis of a full-scale model as well as documentation of the creative process surrounding it. A slideshow, for example, shows historical images of oriental-inspired pavilions on the European mainland. There is also a short film montage of media images, as well as documents related to the polarised political reactions to the project.
This room displays Thomas Demand’s photo series ‘Black Label’, a project that refers to an eponymous bar in the station district of Kitakyushu in Japan. The location of
‘Black Label’ has been changed several times due to urban developments and the bar is currently situated on a very small and multi-sided plot that completely dominates the appearance of the bar. Demand replicated the bar as a scale model in his studio and exhibited the photographs at the CCA Project Gallery in Kitakyushu, where he was in residence at the time. At the same time he hung a photo of the empty reconstructed exhibition space in the CCA Project Gallery in the original Black Label bar as a replacement for a mirror.
A few years later, Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija also visited the CCA Project Gallery as a guest resident. His ‘untitled 2013 (thomas demands here)’ (2013) was a response to Demand’s project. Out of his interest in the social function of the bar and its local significance in the station district, Tiravanija rebuilt the bar in the CCA in all its functionality, replete with light and karaoke installation. The result is both a sculpture and a social meeting place. Today, both works can be seen together for the first time.
A society ruled by structures and systems where performance is key, optimisation forms a constant preoccupation, and gamification is used as a means to drive up participation… All these properties defining our everyday lives were first explored by Ericka Beckman in her work in the early 1980s, long before the introduction of social media and virtual reality. At M, the American artist presents her multimedia installation ‘Nanotech Players’ (1989), her first 16 mm film ‘You The Better’ (1983), and her new film ‘Reach Capacity’ (2020), shown in world premiere. The two films share the use of game as a structuring device, popular culture imagery, and a commentary on capitalism and real estate.
Beckman’s films are at once physically engaging and cognitively complex. Attempting to make sense of a plot proves to be a futile enterprise, as the action is not driven by an identifiable narrative. We are prompted to adapt our mindset, and engage with what is happening on the screen as if we were part of the game rather than witnessing a story with a moral undertone. Similarly to a tale being punctuated by elements such as conflict and resolution, the game’s inherent properties define its progress, such as its set of rules and the appointment of a winner at the end.
But does the game ever end? Societal critique permeates Beckman’s work. In ‘You The Better’, as the action unfolds, we realise that there is no chance of winning when there are underlying forces at play controlling the outcome. Can will power and strategy inflect the course of a game that is rigged from the start? As it appears, the only possible conclusion is that one cannot outwit the dominating system. Beckman herewith alludes to a structuralist understanding of the world in general and our capitalist society in particular. Forty years later, it is time for a new round: in ‘Reach Capacity’, capitalism is challenged by an alternative, more social system. Will the ruling system be overthrown this time? Beckman refuses the flat didacticism of a staged revolution, instead pointing to a subtle rearrangement of the rules by the labouring class in order to regain control.
Alongside this political comment, Beckman intends to provoke a bodily response. The physical activity on screen contributes to engage the audience, as do the easily identifiable objects and the restricted set of bright colours. The props displayed in the gallery blur the boundaries, turning two-dimensional viewing into a three-dimensional experience. While this is how the artist has always envisaged the presentation of her work, it is only recently that technology and a shift in curatorial practices have made this display possible, freeing her films from the screening room and bringing them to life as installations.
Beckman’s interest in turning the viewing of her work into a bodily experience is rooted in the multidisciplinary exploration she initiated at the CalArts school (California) in the late 1970s. This is where she started experimenting by combining various media in film such as percussion, chant, sculpture and most notably performance, in order to create a fully immersive environment. The use of movement as a primary conveyor of meaning has been central in her practice ever since, in a manner reminiscent of silent movies.
The artist’s way of working similarly includes both cognitive and physical stages. Each film starts with an extensive period of research. To give shape to her ideas, Beckman draws a large number of concept and story boards, creates the props by hand and writes (and sometimes performs) the songs herself. Most special effects in the film are created in-camera, as the image is being made, using techniques that go back to the origins of cinema, such as multiple exposure and stop motion. In a fast-paced digital era where images lose substance and meaning as they are multiplied and edited, the thought and craftsmanship that Beckman puts into each frame is an invitation to profoundly reinvent the rules of contemporary image-making.
Curator: Valerie Verhack
An exhibition in partnership with Kestner Gesellschaft (Hannover), with the support of Philip Martin Gallery (Los Angeles)
Film installation with props
‘You The Better’ is a milestone in Beckman’s oeuvre. This is at once her first film containing an underlying societal critique and her first work shot in 16 mm, following what she calls an “incubation period” in which she used a Super 8 camera to develop her visual language. This shift in format mainly induced a change in scale, with the artist bringing a larger number of props and performers into the frame. ‘You The Better’ was filmed in a black box studio and on a basketball court, involving many of her CalArts peers, amongst which artists Ashley Bickerton and Tony Conrad. For the music and lyrics, Beckman worked together with composer Brooke Halpin, whom she also met at CalArts, and whom she also collaborated with for ‘Reach Capacity’ (2020, her new film on view at M).
‘You The Better’ intertwines gambling activities and ball games, an association confirmed by the slogans that punctuate the work, such as “Take a shot at the wheel” and “One shot now”. Exposing the film multiple times enabled Beckman to superimpose performers and motifs. As a result, we see ball players getting caught in the middle of a spinning roulette wheel and the house becoming a target for them to hit.
The artist’s research phase included live observation in casinos and anthropological study of play. Beckman was mainly inspired by a game called jai alai, a gambling sport where players use a wicker scoop to make a ball bounce off a walled space at high speed. Betting on jai alai is similar to wagering on horse races. As indicated in the title, the viewer, too, is given a role in the artist’s proto-interactive game. YOU are appointed as the bettor. Now, which bet offers the most value?
As the rules change and strategies evolve, it becomes clear that it is pointless for us to calculate the odds of the players as a group or individually (in one sequence, Ashley Bickerton goes solo, looking directly at the viewer through the camera). Maybe it is time to take a step back, and evaluate the system as a whole? As it appears, no matter what the players choose to do next, they are just cogs in a machine. The almighty house always wins, a reference to the built-in advantage in casinos.
The house, a recurring motif in the film echoed in the props animating with the film, does not only refer to the gambling establishment. It also alludes to real estate under capitalism, as demonstrated in the housing boom at the beginning of the film. To the sound of Beckman chanting “subdivide, subdivide, subdivide”, identical dwellings endlessly multiply, in a manner similar to cell division. Can the seemingly unstoppable advance of market forces ever be halted? This question prompted by ‘You The Better’ at a time when President Reagan was championing free-market capitalism is ever so actual, and Beckman comes back to it in her new film, ‘Reach Capacity’ (2020).
Please click here to read the full lyrics of ‘You The Better’ (1983)
Film installation with a rotating screen
(please keep your distance)
Forty years after its first appearance in ‘You The Better’, the house returns as a character in Beckman’s new work ‘Reach Capacity’, now unequivocally symbolising real estate. Throughout the film, we witness towers and houses materialise at frightening speed. Their neon colours and simple graphic outlines make them look at odds with the naturalistic environment they integrate, as if they were exported out of a video game. One cannot help but be reminded of badly managed urban planning, a worldwide phenomenon, or newly built cities like Dubai, with their rapid development driven by capitalism resulting in a proliferation of skyscrapers.
In the first part of the film, the construction fever seems unstoppable, in a manner reminiscent of the subdivision movement in ‘You The Better’. Construction workers can hold up as many “SLOW” and “STOP” signs as they like, the traders in blue suits continue to invest in new buildings to the sound of capitalist slogans repeated with insistence – “Buy ’em all back”, “Rent is income”. While in ‘You The Better’, the players retained a human quality, sometimes acting as a group but also demonstrating individual traits, in ‘Reach Capacity’, the traders are positively robotic, the uniformised product of a system. Their gestures are often synchronised – at some point, one of them even seems to be remote-controlled. In contrast, the flesh-and-blood workers seem to have more will, but less power.
This changes in the second part of the film: as the screen flips over, the tables turn. The focus is now on the labourers and the struggle they face. Reworking the capitalist game proves a necessity for them: “The bank has failed to support us, no future here…”. The workers manage to go one step further than the players in ‘You The Better’, who always remained subjected to the house. In ‘Reach Capacity’, a thorough understanding of the rules of the game (“Energy’s a resource, it can change our course”) enables the workers to alter it for the better. The cogs in the machine find a way to tweak the larger system governing them. The labourers organise their work in order to build houses twice as quickly, hence freeing up time. This newly acquired spare time is devoted to creating capital that flows into a common trust. With this income distributed equally amongst them, the labourers manage to find a way to combine efficient production as advocated by capitalism and social justice.
The economic and political elements and the structure of the film are closely associated with the most famous of all board games dealing with real estate, ‘Monopoly’. During her research phase, Beckman dived into the history of the game. Its origins go back to the early 1900s, when Elizabeth Magie created a first version of what she called ‘The Landlord’s Game’. Magie’s game had two sets of rules, a Prosperity set and a Monopolist set (only the latter was kept by Parker Brothers when they further developed the game without her). Magie’s aim was to illustrate how society as a whole thrives when monopolies are banished and income is distributed equally. Beckman takes over Magie’s dual game structure by having her screen flip over when a monopoly is reached. What she does not retain is the game’s original didacticism, choosing instead to engage the viewer through rhythmic movement and sound, hence transmitting a feeling rather than a lesson.
Please click here to read the full lyrics of ‘Reach Capacity’ (2020).
Presented for the first time in Europe, the animated installation ‘Nanotech Players’ (1989) shows how Beckman strips the materials and mediums she works with to their bare essentials, yet paradoxically achieving maximum impact. The five images are not animated in film; the static C-prints are instantly turned into a sequence purely by programmed light and sound. The players themselves cannot be separated from the photographic medium, as their identity conveyed by their apparent motion is essentially the result of long exposure time and multiple lights.
Beckman fabricates the models herself, using white sticks and foam discs assembled in a rotational device. This basic shape is then turned into a character by experimenting with photographic and filmic techniques. While the figures star on their own in ‘Nanotech Players’, they also feature in the artist’s two films shown at M. In ‘You The Better’ (1983), they assume the identity of a spinning roulette wheel, while in ‘Reach Capacity’ (2020), the rotating shape reappears in the last part of the film as a tap on a valve regulating energy generated by the labourers, ultimately rebalancing the game.