Tales of Emergence: Establishing institutions for contemporary art since 1945

Wouter Davidts, Ghent University, wouter.davidts@ugent.be
Members of KB45, research group on Art in Belgium since 1945 at Ghent University, Belgium

The Ghent Municipal Museum for Contemporary Art (now SMAK), established in 1975, was Belgium’s first museum for contemporary art. The museum came about following a long and intensive campaign driven by a local group of engaged art lovers. In many other countries as well, the effective inauguration of institutions for contemporary art is often preceded by many plans and initiatives driven by local groups of intellectuals, artists and prominent civilians. As official interest and support for contemporary art is lacking, the pre-histories of several museums are rife with fascinating stories, intense battles and both successful and aborted projects.

This session aims to map the beginnings of institutions of contemporary art in countries and cities beyond the acknowledged centres of art such as Paris, London, Berlin or New York. Rather than retelling the (pre)histories of established art institutions, this session aims to gather stories of the vision and effort it commonly has taken to institute new places for the most recent expressions of art in places on the so-called periphery, or even way out. We particularly invite case studies of institutions from different geographies, addressing such contested notions as centre and periphery, as well as local and international.

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