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Middleheim Museum opens the group exhibition "My Little Paradise" in the Hortiflora
Pascale Marthine Tayou: L’arbre à palabre - Diamondscape II, 2013. Wood, metal, glass and synthetic material. Courtesy Galleria Continnua / San Gimignano / Beijing / Le Moulin. © the artist. Photo: Joris Casaer.
ANTWERP.- Between 26 May and 15 September, a group exhibition put together by Hans Op de Beeck and Sara Weyns called My Little Paradise (Mijn kleine paradijs) is being held in the Middelheim Museum in Antwerp. The new exhibition location in the former Hortiflora flower garden was itself the source of inspiration for the exhibition theme. National and international artists are showing work that represents the theme of a small, personal paradise: David Altmejd, John Cale, Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Carsten Höller, Hans Op de Beeck, Pascale Marthine Tayou and Leon Vranken. The artists reflect not only on the cultural and historical meaning of a Garden of Eden, but also on the contemporary, social meaning of a paradise. For some of us it remains an eternal fantasy, while others create a literal rendition of it in their own back gardens. In the Braempaviljoen (Braem Pavilion), visitors can view the collection presentation 1+1=33, with works by Vic Gentils and Rezsö Berczeller, until 1 September.

The ongoing theme for the Middelheim Museum last summer was its renovation. This summer, a group exhibition curated by Hans Op de Beeck and Sara Weyns takes place in and around the new, semi-open Het Huis (The House) pavilion in the Hortiflora. The artists are exhibiting their work in a space previously occupied by exhibitions of works by Antony Gormley and Thomas Schütte.

My Little Paradise (Mijn kleine paradijs)
“This summer, the Middelheim Museum is presenting My Little Paradise (Mijn kleine paradijs) which is the first group exhibition to be shown at Hortiflora,” says Philip Heylen, alderman for culture of the city of Antwerp. “One year after completion of the renovation of the open-air museum, the new part of the museum act as the source of inspiration for seven national and international artists. They reflect in the most personal and surprising manner about the different ways we can interpret this kind of place today.”

When the Middelheim Museum added the former Hortiflora flower garden of Nachtengalenpark (Nightingale Park) to its grounds last year, it also acquired a new exhibition area: a formally designed garden hidden behind a lush layer of greenery. The summer exhibition My Little Paradise (Mijn kleine paradijs) puts the spotlight firmly on the Hortiflora. The design of the garden evokes the concept of the Hortus Conclusus – the enclosed garden – a concept that has been loaded with meaning in the world of Western history of art and literature since as far back as the Middle Ages. According to Erasmus, it was a place for contemplation and introspection, for the (once very powerful) Catholic clients in the world of art, a metaphor for the Annunciation and a representation of the Garden of Eden. It has offered artists since the Flemish Primitives a welcome opportunity to experiment with perspective and space. But non-Western illustrations, from present-day Iraq and China, have also featured enclosed gardens and the “good life” therein since 645 BC.

The Middelheim Museum doesn’t want these many implicit meanings to go unaddressed, but wants, rather, to confront them and, together with various artists, explore whether it can map out the ramifications for contemporary sculpture (or more accurately, spatially oriented art).

Today, enclosed gardens are associated with a very different range of aspects. They are the ideal places, for instance, for creating one’s own little personal paradise. And we do that literally: Flemish front and back gardens are famous for the intense creativity applied to what is often just a few square metres. But regardless of our geographic possibilities, we also conjure up (secretly or otherwise) a dream situation in which only our very own desires are present. A house on stilts under palm trees, eternally good weather, endless free time, unlimited freedom. Each and every aspect more palpable than the next. Our Western fantasies are often tinged moreover with a hint of things exotic. But what constitutes paradise for one person is hell for someone else. Something that is attractive to one person is seen as banal or even disturbing by the next person. And what price are we prepared to pay for feeling totally carefree? From this perspective, a paradise is therefore inevitably personal and contrasts sharply with the concept that it is often confused with: Utopia.

My Little Paradise (Mijn kleine paradijs) gives seven national and international artists the opportunity to reflect on the tension between private and public, the boundaries of personal and psychological space, voluntary isolation and involuntary exclusion. More than sufficient subject matter for an exciting group exhibition designed by Hans Op de Beeck (1969, Belgium), who is also the first selected artist, and Sara Weyns, curator of the Middelheim Museum. The other artists are David Altmejd (1974 Canada), John Cale (1942 Wales), Janet Cardiff (1957, Canada) & George Bures Miller (1960, Canada), Carsten Höller (1961, Belgium), Pascale Marthine Tayou (1967, Cameroon), and Leon Vranken (1975, Belgium).

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