A future for ‘Quand le ciel bas et lourd’, 1992 by artist David Lamelas
Dear David, Dear Jan, and everyone who signed the letter to the Minister-President,
We are pleased to see the support that has been expressed, and the momentum that has grown over the past few days around Quand le ciel bas et lourd, the work by artist David Lamelas, which has defined the public space alongside the KMSKA on the corner of Schildersstraat and Plaatsnijdersstraat since 1992. It is thrilling to count more than 700 signatures, including many names that carry a lot of weight for us, all within a week’s time on a letter advocating the preservation of an exemplary work of art. Such a positive dynamic gives us the courage to invest further energy into this matter. We are grateful to each and every one of you.
For almost two years now, discussions have been underway with various key players about the possible relocation of this work, which cannot be retained at its current location due to the large-scale renovation of the KMSKA. The many discussions have also led to a murky situation in some areas. The current impetus and the opening lines of the letter of support remind us that it is important in this case to clarify the situation with everyone. In this letter we want to paint a nuanced picture that can form the basis for jointly ensuring a concrete and positive follow-up for the work. A brief summary of the facts:
- Quand le ciel bas et lourd by David Lamelas was installed in 1992 in the garden of KMSKA for the exhibition “America Bride of the Sun”. It has a site-specific dimension; it interrogates the bourgeois architecture surrounding it from a post-colonial perspective, and also bridges the avant-garde history of the neighbourhood with the artist’s former gallery, Wide White Space, which was at one time located in the art nouveau house on the corner across from the museum.
- In 2011, the work was donated to M HKA by the artist after the museum contacted him as part of its historiographic project. M HKA has since made the work a key reference in its collection.
- In 2018, the approach to the surrounding park around KMSKA was put on the agenda as a next phase of the overall plans to refurbish the museum premises. M HKA heard that there seemed to be a problem with the work in the new plans, and enquired about this with the Flemish culture administration on 24 June 2018. The work of art turned out to be located in the way of the new supply route of the security services and of the museum’s new freight lift. Calculation of the turning circles for the trucks failed to provide an alternative solution.
- The memorandum on Quand le ciel bas et lourd that M HKA attached to its question to the administration not only defended the importance of the work but also mentioned two possible solutions in case the problem could not be resolved:
– relocation of the work in the park, closer to Wide White Space, subject to the artist’s agreement.
– purchase of another work by David Lamelas as compensation.
The artist did not choose the second option, but was in favour of the first proposal for a relocation closer to the former Wide White Space gallery.
The designers from Team van Meer, who were responsible for the garden redesign, created a new design at the request of the steering group for the KMSKA masterplan. The artist agreed with this proposal.
- Team van Meer estimated that the rebuilding of the steel structure would cost 110,000 euros. During the permit process, Flanders Heritage Agency Onroerend Erfgoed issued a negative opinion on the proposal of a relocation and various city services apparently did so as well during the design process.
- In the spring of 2020, Minister-President Jan Jambon decided not to go ahead with the proposal for a new edition of the work on the basis of these facts.
M HKA understood this decision: there was no budget space within the envelope allocated to KMSKA and the time frame for reopening KMSKA was tight.
At that time, the city government was thinking in terms of a relocation of the work to the Middelheim Museum, disregarding its site-specific dimension.
- In June 2020, M HKA was in contact with the artist and examined alternative locations elsewhere in the South district of Antwerp. The artist felt that this was not appropriate. M HKA consulted various actors within the city to see if any initiative on that side was possible in the short term.
- On August 28, 2020, the council of aldermen of the City of Antwerp validated the final design of the garden presented to them by the Flemish administration, which did not include a new edition of the artwork. This provided a basis for the following steps in the redevelopment of the park: permits, agreements on periodic maintenance of green areas, public tenders. The start of the redevelopment of the park was scheduled for February 2021.
- On September 18, 2020, the artist sent an email to the Minister-President in which he expressed the wish that the work be preserved on the site.
- On September 21, 2020, M HKA had a – previously planned but postponed – appointment with the Minister-President’s office. In a new memorandum, M HKA presented arguments to the Minister-President for the desirability of nevertheless relocating the work and offered to undertake its production. The Minister-President accepted this, but explicitly asked for the agreement of KMSKA.M HKA immediately received a positive response from KMSKA, both from the chairman of its Board of Directors and from its director, as well as from the KMSKA masterplan steering group. The planned works on the garden were of course not stopped. It was decided that the necessary dismantling of the current edition of the artwork would be documented in consultation with M HKA, with an eye to the production of the new edition.
- November 2020: M HKA started preparations for the production.
It will have to face several challenges at the same time: supervising the dismantling of the work, working out the concrete aspects of the relocation itself, finding the financial means and obtaining the necessary permits from the city. In addition to these practical steps, M HKA also wishes to work substantively by planning a presentation and various events that will further situate the artwork within an art historical perspective, but also in the context of renewed societal support for the work.
Writing to the Minister-President is therefore no longer relevant in this regard. The responsibility for the work Quand le ciel bas et lourd is currently, and unambiguously, in the hands of M HKA, which had previously shown commitment to the artwork and expressed the desire to take up its cause. M HKA is not alone in this, and is also now bolstered by the broad support that the petition letter demonstrates.
In any case, the work will be dismantled in February, and if it is up to us, it will be relocated in the same area in the foreseeable future.
We agree with you that this is an exceptional work and a key work in various ways. We will keep you informed on this exciting story and we will be happy to involve you as much as possible.
Bart De Baere, Director