The chapel has been in place at Mudam since the museum opened in 2006
Just three months after its new director took up her post, the decision to dismantle an iconic work leaves the modern art museum once again making headlines for all the wrong reasons.
Having seemingly recovered from the controversy of the Enrico Lunghi “affair”, which led to the resignation of its former director and censure for broadcaster RTL, the Mudam contemporary art museum was the subject of renewed public outcry in early April.
Its decision to dismantle one of its most iconic exhibits, Wim Delvoye’s Chapelle, was met with dismay by fans of the art work, and with perplexion by its creator.
News of the decision to take down the gothic-inspired chapel, which was created by the Belgian artist for the opening of Mudam in 2006, was broken by daily newspaper Le Quotidien.
That prompted a parliamentary question from the ADR party’s Fernand Kartheiser of prime minister Xavier Bettel in his role as minister of culture. Bettel confirmed that the work would be dismantled and “stored”, but that it could also be exhibited elsewhere.
Delvoye learned of the decision via an insider at Mudam and through the media. He was apparently asked if he would help in the dismantling. In an interview with Delano’s sister publication Paperjam, Delvoye says he asked the new director of the museum, Suzanne Cotter, if she could explain the decision.
She told him the space in which the chapel resided was needed to house a permanent space for children’s workshops as part of the museum’s education programme. The education programme is partly funded by the Leir Charitable Foundations, which recently extended its support of the museum for a further ten years.
That is hardly a “valid reason”, argues the artist. “The work has helped the reputation of the museum, which, as you know, has experienced plenty of turbulence,” he said. “The director of a museum is free to do what she wants, but she should make decisions based on artistic arguments and also think of the public,” he told the Lëtzebuerger Land.
Delvoye says he also spoke with Philippe Dupont, vice president of the Mudam board, but that the conversation was far from friendly. “He was clearly irritated by my call.” Attempts by Delvoye to speak with Bettel by phone have so far been in vain, the artist says.
Delvoye says he would like to give a museum elsewhere the chance to exhibit the chapel in its entirety and has the SMAK contemporary art museum in Gent in mind.
Support on social media
The decision sparked a wave of support for Delvoye on social media. Plenty of people in Luxembourg clearly admire the chapel. It was created to fit the space it occupied since 2006 when IM Pei designed the museum, although the corner on the first floor of Mudam was not originally meant for the exhibition of art. Delvoye claims that Pei was “very happy” to see the work on show there.
The Chapelle is certainly more popular than another of Delvoye’s works, the 1999 sculpture Trophy showing two deer copulating, but in the human missionary position, ranked 5th out of 15 in a list of the “World’s ugliest art” published on the Bored Panda website in the summer of 2016.
It is located in the Dräi Eechelen park that surrounds Mudam.
The chapel has been in place at Mudam since the museum opened in 2006. Created in 2006 in time for the opening of Mudam, Wim Delvoye’s Chapelle is perhaps only rivalled by local artist Su-Mei Tse’s Many Spoken Words ink fountain as the work most synonymous with the museum.
It is constructed of laser-cut Corten steel and stained-glass windows that display subversive images, many of which reference the artist’s own work. There are obscene gestures, kisses, human intestines and skeletons and X-rayed pieces of meat. “The skulls, the bones and their by-products are grimacing, cynical modern vanities,” writes the artist.