The Cool House: Surrealism Begins at the Door

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Surrealism Begins at the Door

I wouldn't say it was the only reason for going to Belgium (family and friends would be highly insulted) but it's safe to say we were excited to see the newly opened Musée Magritte Museum that I blogged about earlier this summer. A whole museum dedicated to the surrealist master? Crazy/fabulous. Let's just say that the paintings weren't the only surreal thing that we experienced. For starters there are two entrances on the front of the building, an entrance for groups and an entrance for those with tickets. What you do if you aren't part of a group and have no ticket? Cherchez la porte?
The Guy had purchased tickets online in advance and joined the queue indicated only to learn when he got to the front that as he did not have a paper print out but rather a code he needed to be in another line for the digital retrievals, on a lower floor. Shrugging his shoulders in an appropriate manner he descended and discovered that it's well to speak three languages here because although the first part of ticket retrieval was completed in English the computer screen switched to French or Dutch for the code input. (He was also instructed when he booked to have the credit card he used with him to get his tickets. No surprise that at the museum he wasn't asked for it).

Never mind, we had tickets, we could now enter the elevator that would whisk us upwards, past the entrance where we first tried to get our tickets, to the third floor where the exhibition begins. Don't look for any information in the lift, the floors are marked by divisions of the painting L'évidence éternelle. You know you have arrived at the third floor because the image on the wall is the woman's head and not another part of her anatomy.

Tickets in hand we proceeded to the turnstiles where things got more odd. An attendant took the ticket from each person, waved it in a digital reader and instructed each person to proceed through a rotating carousel into the show. Except me. Of course. I had an empty Perrier bottle that I'd been trying to ditch for most of the morning but Brussels sorts its trash and I hadn't been able to find a plastics recycling bin. The attendant stopped me and took my water bottle but that also stopped the carousel mid-turn. He then tried to re-insert my ticket to start it up but no joy. The poor man had to juggle my bottle, a sheaf of papers, my ticket and something else I can't recall (a stuffed antelope, a pipe, a large fluffy cloud?) in order to get to his override pass that was on a much too short cord around his neck near enough to the reader to unlock the carousel... all while the family and I made jokes about surrealism being difficult to explain but you know it when you encounter it.

After all that the art could have been an anti-climax but of course it wasn't. There are of course some minor niggles - for one the lighting is atrocious, it's almost impossible to read Magritte's thoughts that are beautifully stenciled in French on the walls so you will have to read the smaller but better lit translation in Dutch. What, you don't read Dutch? Tough, there is no English translation on the wall. Pick up a pamphlet that has his "sayings" in five languages instead. Only don't try reading it inside the exhibition - did I mention the lighting? The pieces in the collection, however, are all labeled in French, Dutch and English. There museum is full of treasures: photographs and home movies, letters, posters and pamphlets from the early days of the Surrealist movement, Magritte's advertising work and of course his paintings. Go here to get a sense of the museum before (or in lieu of) your visit. And be prepared to appreciate the slightly surreal experience of the museum.

One more thing

the passage between the Musée Magritte Museum and the Fine Arts Museum is one of the finest examples of Art Nouveau architecture in the city. And I had never seen it before. Enjoy!


pve design said...

I will go next trip~ thanks for the tip!
Love Magritte.

Unknown said...

hey there....loved the tour but.... will only venture there with you and the guy....english is all i have and definately no coins...that being said...the buildings were breathtaking ...ahh but of course, it was the one under renovation that caught my eye...would love a glimpse at the julie

modernemama said...

Everyone should go - and not be as stubborn as I am. If you take a taxi from the airport you'll find it so much easier and I can recommend a great guide who can sort out all your language problems and introduce you to the best spots in the city!

Why S? said...

I'm just now catching up with your travels. Even with your share of traveler aggravation I would love to visit that museum. Thanks for the pictures, both the ones you posted and the mental variety.

modernemama said...

I'm going to use "mental variety" as my new twitter tagline - royalty checks will be sent to you...