The Absent Museum – at Wiels, Brussels

WIELS’ The Absent Museum is a temporary exhibition that explores what a museum’s role today could be. Despite the fact that museums – especially those devoted to contemporary art – have never been so popular, they remain notably absent from public debate on most key current issues. In Brussels, as in many metropolitan areas, discussions around the creation of a new museum focus on a building or a collection, but avoid the fundamental question: what is to be done? What content or knowledge should a museum transmit?


Although WIELS does not have the status of a museum, it is commonly referred to as ‘the WIELS museum’. Over the past decade, WIELS has established a reputation for its critically engaged programme. To mark its 10th anniversary, WIELS proposes a substantive framework – or blueprint – for a possible museum of contemporary art in the capital of Europe. In this speculative exhibition, existing works and new productions by contemporary and historical artists interpret the challenges that museums face today: Which issues should a museum propel into the realm of careful consideration? Which absences or lacunae in museum collections should be redressed? Which new or parallel histories should be told? Whose identities should be represented, shaped, or confirmed?


The Absent Museum is both a look backwards at the journey that WIELS has made so far and a projection of its future development. As such, it includes several contributions by artists who have previously exhibited at WIELS while also setting forth certain directions for the future. In their choice of artists, the curators have focused on those leading discourse, drawing from the wealth of artists in the wider region, from Amsterdam to Paris, from Cologne and Düsseldorf to London, with Brussels at the crossroads.


This exhibition of works by 47 artists is held throughout three landmark buildings of the former Wielemans brewery site: WIELS, BRASS and Métropole. In addition to making the most of the three very different architectures and atmospheres of its three venues, The Absent Museum is structured around two complementary curatorial approaches.


The works on the 2nd floor of WIELS root the project in the specific art-historical and social context of Brussels and of Belgium, looking at how controversial, repressed and forgotten issues are absent from mainstream museum collections and narratives. These absences are revelatory of the gaps or blind spots in the collective consciousness of the country, sometimes due to wishful amnesia, other times due to a lack of shared information. This section is titled The Absent [Museum] where the emphasis is on absences within museum collections in opposition to the presence of the issues in public debate and opinion.


The other spaces of the exhibition fall under the title of The [Absent] Museum, where the works offer a blueprint or suggestion for the type of art practice that could define the art-historical program of a future museum of contemporary art in Brussels. This takes into consideration the current position and situation of Brussels, as the de facto capital of the European Union and the headquarters of NATO, with a largely multi-cultural and multilingual population that links the city intimately to global dynamics. This blueprint for a future museum marks a shift from the former transmission of narratives of nation building by art museums in the past. The included works also bear witness to the range of issues that cultural institutions such as museums should be examining – and thus opening up for debate – should they continue to play a central role in the formation of public opinion and sensibilities. Many artists selected – such as Jo Baer, Nil Yalter, Ellen Gallagher, stanley brouwn, Christopher Williams, Goshka Macuga, Oscar Murillo, Otobong Nkanga, Jimmie Durham, among others – are discourse producers and leading diasporic voices based in the wider Benelux region.


Thomas Hirschhorn_The Absent Museum_highres_001


Jana Ueler_The Absent Museum_highres_001


Jana Ueler_The Absent Museum_highres_002


Oscar Murillo_The Absent Museum_highres_005


Jo Baer_The Absent Museum_highres_001


Luc Tuymans_The Absent Museum_highres_001


Luc Tuymans_The Absent Museum_highres_002


Guillaume Bijl_Walter Swennen_The Absent Museum_001


Jef Geys_Martin Kippenberger_The Absent Museum_001


Marcel Broothaers_The Absent Museum_001


Guillaume Bijl_Wesley Meuris_The Absent Museum_001


stanley brouwn_The Absent Museum_001


Felix Nussbaum_The Absent Museum_002


Francis Alys_The Absent Museum_003


Francis Alys_Jef Geys_The Absent Museum_003


Luc Tuymans and others_The Absent Museum_001


Gerhard Richter_The Absent Museum_001


Dirk Braeckman_Martin Kippenberger_Gerhard Richter_ TheAbsent Museum_001


Sammy Baloji_Walter Swennen_The Absent Museum_001


Mekhitar Garabedian_Michel Francois_The Absent Museum_001
Michel francois_The Absent Museum_001


Ellen Gallagher_The Absent Museum_002


Ellen Gallagher_The Absent Museum_003


Daniel Dewar & Gregory Gicquel_The Absent Museum_001


Daniel Dewar & Gregory Gicquel_The Absent Museum_002
Marlene Dumas_The Absent Museum_003


Marlene Dumas_The Absent Museum_005


Rosemarie Trockel_The Absent Museum_001


Rosemarie Trockel_The Absent Museum_002


Rosemarie Trockel_The Absent Museum_003


Olivier Foulon_The Absent Museum_001


Monica Baer_The Absent Museum_001


Isa Genzken_The Absent Museum 001


Isa Genzken_The Absent Museum 002


Christopher Williams_The Absent Museum_001


Christopher Williams_The Absent Museum_005


Marina Pinsky_The Absent Museum_005


Marina Pinsky_The Absent Museum_002


Ann_Veronica_Janssens_The Absent_Museum_002


Thomas Hirschhorn_The Absent Museum_006


Lili Reynaud-Dewar_The Absent Museum_001


Lili Reynaud-Dewar_The Absent Museum_002


Lili Reynaud-Dewar_The Absent Museum_007


Michel Francois_The Absent Museum_002


Michel Francois_The Absent Museum_005


Jamie Cameron_Absent Museum_highres_001


Harald Thys & Jos De Gruyter_The Absent Museum_highres_006


Harald Thys & Jos De Gruyter_The Absent Museum_highres_016


Harald Thys & Jos De Gruyter_The Absent Museum_highres_014


Mark Manders_The Absent Museum_001


Mark Manders_The Absent Museum_005



The Absent Museum

Francis Alÿs, Archief van de Universele Ambassade, Younes Baba-Ali, Jo Baer, Monika Baer, Sammy Baloji, Guillaume Bijl, Dirk Braeckman, Marcel Broodthaers, stanley brouwn, Daniel Dewar & Grégory Gicquel, Marlene Dumas, Jimmie Durham, Jana Euler, Olivier Foulon, Michel François, Ellen Gallagher, Mekhitar Garabedian, Isa Genzken, Jef Geys, Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, Thomas Hirschhorn, Carsten Höller, Cameron Jamie, Ann Veronica Janssens, Martin Kippenberger, Goshka Macuga, Mark Manders, Lucy McKenzie, Wesley Meuris, Nástio Mosquito, Jean-Luc Moulène, Le Mur, Oscar Murillo, Otobong Nkanga, Felix Nussbaum, Willem Oorebeek, Marina Pinsky, Lili Reynaud-Dewar, Gerhard Richter, Walter Swennen, Wolfgang Tillmans, Rosemarie Trockel, Luc Tuymans, Richard Venlet, Peter Wächtler, Christopher Williams and Nil Yalter

20 April – 13 August 2017



Avenue Van Volxemlaan 354

Brussels (BE)





Courtesy of the artists and WIELS

Photography: Kristien Daem




Thomas Hirschhorn

Edition for the South London Gallery, 2016

(73 x 103 cm / –
Unique framed work in a series of 15 variations, signed by the artist)

€ 6800



Thomas Hirschhorn

Too Too Much Much Necklace, 2010

(33 x 72 x 23 cm / –
Edition of 8 copies, signed and numbered by the artist)

€ 4500





Mark Manders

A Few Things One Is Not Allowed to Do, 2011

(30 x 40 cm / –
Edition of 100 copies, signed and numbered by the artist)

€ 250





Luc Tuymans

Dead Skull, 2011

(40 x 40 cm / –
Edition of 60 copies, signed and numbered by the artist)

€ 2200




Luc Tuymans

The Rumour, 2002-2003

(668 x 91.4 cm / –
Edition of 18 copies, signed and numbered by the artist on certificate)

€ 45000





Mekhitar Garabedian

Library (Mesrob), 2006

(40 x 30 cm / –
Edition of 25 copies, signed and numbered by the artist)

€ 250





Jimmie Durham

Poison Evidence, 2014

(28 x 28 cm / –
Unique, in a series of 21 variations, signed by the artist)

€ 1275





Marina Pinsky

MMXVI, 2016

(21 x 17 cm / –
Edition of 38 unique photographs, signed and numbered by the artist)

€ 230





Dirk Braeckman

F.T.-T.F.-13-2013, 2013

(29,7 x 42 cm / –
Edition of 30 copies, signed and numbered by the artist)

€ 1400


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