At one point or another we all take the Brussels metro. Be it to get to work, go shopping, cross town, get out of town – you name it, it is an inevitable transportation option. For me taking the metro is part of the routine to get to work, get back from work, go into town, get out of town. That is when we don’t decide to leave the city on bikes. But I am diverting!
The metro. You probably wonder what this has to do with art? As recently explored, lots! The Brussels underground hosts one of the most extensive and eclectic art collections in Belgium. The art ranges from very Belgian – Stockel metro station is a tribute to Hergé and Tintin to the very scary – the Albert station is a cross between nature, mystery and grotesque creatures. The metro art covers paintings, sculptures, photos, amazing Horta wrought iron work (at the … Horta station) and much more in 69 Brussels stations.
Which brings me back to the metro-routine. I rarely take the time to actually look at the art on display, or to understand more about it. Which really is a pity, given that the art on display is almost free (the cost of a ticket) and it does give a very interesting glimpse into the Brussels life. I do make the time to go to an exclusive, costly exhibition in a museum but don’t take the time to explore my local metro station. Who knew that the Saint Gilles station is actually the entire text of the Declaration of Human Rights written one letter at the time on tiny blue tiles? If you dissociate that the work of Francoise Schein is displayed underground, it is really an amazing piece of art.
I am torn between the fact that this extensive collection is underground, in metro stops which are not an ideal place to spend your free time. And that there are some truly interesting, emotional and intriguing metro –art stations. I almost have the feeling I walk in blind, with a purpose, walk out. And I wonder if I am the only one? Have our lives become so much of a routine that we don’t take the time to look around and absorb what surrounds us? Or is the reason we ignore this underground art much simpler, namely that the metro art is not so well promoted.
When I bought the MIVB booklet ‘When art takes the metro…’ I think both the sales person and I were taken by surprise. She, because I was probably the only non-MIVB employee buying this book (at 5e it’s probably the cheapest art book I ever bought!) and I, because I found such a rich source of Brussels insider information which was kept secret. In the meantime the book has also been translated in English and is available online, which made me realize there are many stations I have not even been to which probably are waiting to be discovered.
First up? My own station where I will take some time to explore the dark city sky-scrapers world of Francois Schuiten.
this blog post also appeared on Fans of Flanders