Baroque Shock: a talk with Teju Cole

<p>2018 will be the year Antwerp celebrates its identity as a baroque city with the yearlong event Baroque Shock 2018. Almost every museum will host multiple exhibitions on old and new baroque art. There&rsquo;ll be dashing parade. Events at the streets, theatres and churches. Concerts. And much more.</p>

To make sure Antwerp offers you the best of its baroque scene, art historian and novelist Teju Cole (born in Nigeria, living in Brooklyn) got appointed as artistic inspirer of Baroque Shock 2018. Visit Antwerp already took the time to sit down with him and have a chat about the city and baroque.

Teju, why did the city of Antwerp choose you to inspire Baroque Shock 2018?

They wanted someone weird and different. (laughs) No, honestly: it’s not so hard to find a professional curator. But they wanted someone who had an unusual, unexpected perspective on baroque art. Someone who came from an unexpected background.

What is your background? Do you have a certain connection with Belgium and Antwerp?

Belgium is a country I’ve visited many times before, and I certainly have a sustained interest in the local art and culture. When I studied at Columbia University, I had a wide field of interests. But there was something that intrigued me about the art from Rubens, Brueghel and Van Eyck.

That range of artistic production, in this Northern part of Europe, has something distinctive. Something I find quite different from Italian art.

And now, years later, an opportunity comes up to engage more deeply with that art and think about the 17th century in Antwerp. While I’m in Antwerp, which is great.

What does baroque mean to you, on a personal level?

Actually, it’s something I’m learning. It’s a style that art historians all over the world can describe as “this is baroque”. But I’m also learning that there are lots of subtleties beyond all that verve, style, dash and display. Baroque has a vibrant, enthusiastic swing. But that doesn’t mean that intimacy is absent.

I’m particularly interested in the stories behind the main story of a work. There is a lot of artwork, but I believe there’s more to it than just that. Because that’s the other thing with baroque: it always has a lot of layers. Even very strong mythological ones.

Given your knowledge, you surely must have some ideas already on presenting Baroque Shock 2018.

Sure, I’m working on it. 2018 is soon, just a year and a half away from now. On the other hand: there’s enough time. Also because it’s still a year and a half from now. (laughs)
During Baroque Shock 2018 there’ll be a focus on the contrast between the new and the old. Between the Flemish Masters and contemporary artists. I think that’s something that will merge in a number of exhibitions.

There’s a number of exhibitions in like 10 different museums in Antwerp. Which the museums will organize on their own, or in collaboration with each other.

When you visit Antwerp in 2018, you’ll get to experience multiple exhibitions, all interconnected by their interest in baroque. Ranging from the Photo Museum over the Fashion Museum to the M HKA and the MAS.

Which are, for a lot of people, not the museums they link to baroque art.

True, but we want to make sure everyone can have a conversation with everyone. At the Rubens House, monumental churches, the Middelheim open air museum, at the Platin-Moretus Museum, the Rockox House, … Here, amongst other places, the audience will be able to visit a series of interconnected and interlocking exhibitions.

Can you lift a tip of the veil on what’s going to happen at the MAS?

No. Can’t tell you yet. (laughs)

Okay, any other parts of the Baroque Shock 2018 program you can talk about?

For example, Luc Tuymans will curate a selection of baroque art at the M HKA. And there’ll be lots of contemporary interventions like that.

I think what people should know is that, from March until December 2018, there will always be something going on in Antwerp. So, if you come to Antwerp several times that year, you’ll catch several different things. Especially during summer: there’ll be a theatrical aspect, a parade, music, graffiti, wall painting,… You can expect a kaleidoscopic view of Antwerp and baroque.

Actually, you would want to spend two weeks in Antwerp during 2018. One around during spring, and, let’s say, one during fall. There are just so many things going on. You’ll see different things at the same museum. It’s going to be exciting.

Two weeks in Antwerp, sounds good. But except from Baroque Shock 2018, what should people do when they’re here?

There aren’t a lot of places in the world that have such great art on display as Antwerp’s Cathedral. If you’re spending a limited time in Antwerp and you want to hit four or five spots, I’d recommend the Cathedral, the MAS with its panoramic view of the city and where you are swept away by what you see in each gallery. Go grab lunch at MarchĂ© Couverts, a nice small restaurant with wonderful food and decent prices.

Also, go to Dries Van Noten. Shop and get a taste of Antwerp high fashion. Maybe buy a scarf, you know, since you can’t afford a jacket. (laughs)

And don’t miss the Plantin-Moretus Museum. They got absolutely one of the most unique collections in the world.

Go to the Photo Museum. They have a small, compact collection, changing exhibitions and a really nice photography book shop. Every time I come to Antwerp, I go to the Photo Museum.

Of course Antwerp also has a lot of nice places to get a drink or to eat. CafĂ© Au Lait, for example. And in the neighborhood of Central Station you’ll find some good places to experience different kitchens from all over the world. There’s this Nigerian restaurant which, even in the middle of Antwerp, reminds me of home.

But most of all: just wander around. Wander for a while and get lost. Get off the beaten path.

Discover everything about Baroque Shock 2018 in this brochure. 

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