‘Museum To Scale 1:7’, or how to make Barbie & Ken love Belgian contemporary art

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A miniature museum? Entirely devoted to Belgian art? With an online extension? Who wouldn’t be intrigued? After closer inspection I have to conclude that for the time being, Museum To Scale 1:7 doesn’t live up to the expectations. It’s a museum in need of a PR-assistant and a better curator. The more than hundred miniature rooms are on view through February 2 at the Royal Museum of Fine Arts (Brussels) and will travel to Naples (Florida) and Rotterdam in 2014.

It sure is a great idea. A miniature museum with Belgian modern art. Not built by Mattel, with Barbie selling tickets and Ken as a museum guard, but with rooms made by contemporary artists.
Based on an idea of Belgian gallerist Ronny Van de Velde, lots of Belgian visual artists were asked to provide art for their own small-scale museum room. Many important artists accepted the challenge, such as Luc Tuymans, Ann Veronica Janssens, Koen van den Broek, Rinus Van de Velde, Wim Delvoye and Jan Fabre.
The project was inspired by the concept of the Wunderkammer and Marcel Duchamp’s Boîte-en-valise. And since we’re living in the 21st century the project was given an online extension as well. (You’ll find pictures of all the rooms on the Museum To Scale website.)

So far so good. Where it goes wrong, is the presentation of the museum. Visitors of the exhibition at the Royal Museum Of Fine Arts (Brussels) will not know, for instance, that the rooms were made by the artists themselves. (A fact that makes looking at these miniature rooms so interesting.) They can easily come to think that this is indeed Mattel’s vision on Belgian contemporary art.
The only leaflet at the entrance is a leaflet explaining that Belgian artist Wesley Meuris was invited to give form to the exhibition. Which makes it even more confusing: so it was not Mattel but Meuris who constructed this museum? A question that pops up later on, as well, when looking at all the rooms. Because Museum To Scale is not only a museum for contemporary art, it also presents works by René Magritte and Marcel Broodthaers. Who has provided these rooms then, you wonder? (Luckily, you’ll find some explanation on the website of the Fine Arts museum.)

Upon returning home, you switch on the computer and visit the site of Museum To Scale. Another missed opportunity. Instead of stating that this is a museum entirely and solely devoted to Belgian art, it just says: an online platform to which you can access artworks housed in a fast growing archive. You can click on museum rooms, artists A-Z and museum facilities. More info on the concept or the project? Nope. Info on the artists? Nope. Links to their websites (or their gallerists)? Nada. And what with those museum facilities? All you get to see are lots of empty rooms, labeled storageinformation desk, auditoriumbookstore and gift shop. Huh? (Actually: this is part of Wesley Meuris’ project, but that remains a complete mystery to visitors of the website.)

One last note then, on the works of art. It’s great to see how in some rooms the concept really does work. Many of the best rooms, in my opinion, are the ones for which the artists have scaled their works of art down. Such as Jan Vanriet or Koen van den Broek.
Funny to see how an artist such as Robert Devriendt, who always works on a miniature scale, gets lost. And I liked the way Kelly Schacht by-passed the assignment. Against a wall you’ll see a cardboard box with Ikea-like instructions printed on it: how to construct your own miniature museum room.
And Bert Danckaert’s room (Museum To Scale spells his name wrong): the photographer chose not to present miniature versions of his photographs. Instead he ‘transformed’ one of his pictures into a miniature setting, as a piece of decor for a Ken & Barbie-movie. But not all the rooms are that great. The museum could have done with a real curator, selecting the best works.

So: great idea, absolutely, but for now this is a museum that needs some fixing.

You’ll find the ‘Museum To Scale’ website here. More info on the exhibition in Brussels here. More info on the project here. A short clip with a filmed visit to the museum here.

PS (September 2014): ‘Museum To Scale’ is currently on view at Kunsthal Rotterdam through December 7 2014. Info here.

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