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Founding director of S.M.A.K. Museum of Contemporary Art, Jan Hoet, dies at age of 77
Photo taken on January 30, 2013 shows Belgian art critic, curator and founder of the Gent City Museum for Contemporary Art (SMAK), Jan Hoet, posing in the Roger Raveel museum in Machelen-aan-de-Leie. Hoet died on the morning of February 27, 2014 at the age of 77. AFP PHOTO / BELGA / KRISTOF VAN ACCOM.

GHENT.- Jan Hoet, the founding director of our museum, died on Thursday 27 February. We, the whole team at the S.M.A.K., would like to express our sincere condolences at the loss of this strong, warm and energetic man, with whom many among us have worked for long periods and without whom Ghent would probably never have had a museum of contemporary art.

The Museum of Contemporary Art was founded in Ghent in 1975; this new museum had no building of its own, but received a number of rooms and some office space in the Museum of Fine Arts. As Jan Hoet himself put it in his struggle to get a separate museum building, ‘Although there was a collection of contemporary art in Ghent, there was no building that could serve as a museum for it.’

He travelled a very long road before he succeeded in establishing the S.M.A.K. that is now so familiar and well-loved, and he saw to it that the collection grew exponentially.

The first major exhibition in which he showed contemporary Belgian art in Ghent was Aktuele Kunst in België in 1979. Inzicht/Overzicht Overzicht/Inzicht. This was also the first occasion on which Jan Hoet showed what he considered a museum of contemporary art should be: a place that would increasingly function as a platform for the art that was being created in the world, a place to enter into dialogue with people who live in the present and who therefore wish to be confronted with contemporary art.

In 1980 this was followed by another major project, Kunst in Europa na ’68, for which a group of people, assembled by Jan Hoet, for the first time made a selection of international art. This exhibition turned out to be of the utmost importance to the museum collection, because thanks to his assertiveness and perseverance, Jan Hoet succeeded in persuading the city council to purchase a number of these contemporary artworks, even though their appeal was not universal.

But it was probably through the legendary Chambres d’Amis exhibition project in 1986 that Jan Hoet and the museum became best known. Many of us will still remember that people at various places in the city opened up their homes to make them available as exhibition spaces, thus literally enabling art to be taken ‘into people’s living rooms’.

In 1989 Jan Hoet summarised his biographical narrative in the exhibition Open Mind (closed circuits), in which he set up a confrontation between great masters from art history and the art of psychiatric patients and outsider art. Growing up in the constant proximity of these patients – some of whom lodged with the Hoet family in the town of Geel – made a permanent mark on his relationship with art, where the boundary between normal and abnormal is sometimes erased.

Jan Hoet ultimately received the greatest recognition as a creator of exhibitions when he was appointed artistic head of the world’s most important exhibition of contemporary art – Documenta IX – in 1992.

After years of persistence and with the unflagging support and confidence of his enthusiastic team, 1999 finally saw the opening of the museum of contemporary art: the S.M.A.K., a place in Ghent where contemporary art could be experienced to the full. Jan Hoet succeeded in a unique manner in fusing together the static nature of a museum and the vivacity of young artists and contemporary art.

Even though there was now a museum building, Jan Hoet retained his goal of enabling as many people as possible to become acquainted with contemporary art, even outside the museum. In 2000 he once again went out into the public domain with his art: the unforgettable summer of Over the Edges brought a great many people into contact with contemporary art for the very first time, and also with the way art has found its way into our daily lives and made a home for itself there. A year later, in the Locus.Focus exhibition in Sonsbeek, Jan Hoet again explored the possibilities of showing art in public space.

In 2003 Jan Hoet left the S.M.A.K. and went to Herford in Germany to establish the now renowned MARTA museum. In 2013-2014 he organised the Middle Gate exhibition in the Belgian town of Geel. For this he drew inspiration from two elements that ran like threads through his life: exhibitions in urban public space, and the concept of art and psychiatry.

Finally, Jan Hoet wanted to create one last exhibition in which he would invite contemporary artists to enter into dialogue with great artists of the past in a tribute to ‘The Sea’. He himself set out the main outlines in the summer and autumn of 2013 in close collaboration with his co-curator, Phillip Van den Bossche of Mu.Zee. The museum has today decided to expand this homage to the sea and to make it a true salut d’honneur (which was the working title for one of his previous exhibitions) to ‘the master’ himself. Over the next few weeks and months they will be involving a large number of artists and museum people in Jan Hoet’s ‘The Sea’ – a tribute, which will take place in Ostend in autumn 2014.

Jan, on behalf of all the staff at the S.M.A.K., we would like to thank more than we can express, not only for having founded this fantastic place, but also for making your enthusiasm and passion part of the make-up of this museum.

Farewell, Jan

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