Le Temps des Cités, François Schuiten @ Bibliotheca Wittockiana

DSC00735iThe Bibliotheca Wittockiana is a small, atypical museum off the beaten path yet quite close to the centre of Brussels. Tucked away in a quite residential area just off the green lawns and calm lakes of Parc de Woluwe, built into the ground with raw concrete, wood and glass its prominent materials and covered by luscious greenery, it could easily be mistaken for an architect’s residence. That’s because it was purpose-built in 1983, when Michel Wittock, an affluent passionate bibliophile, decided he needed a place to house his astounding collection of books, manuscripts and autographs and share it with his friends and the public. The Wittockiana quickly became a reference point for bibliophiles, not least for its amazing binding collection, one of the most prestigious in the world, assembled by Michel Wittock personally, over sixty years. Such was its impact that Wittockiana was finally recognised as a museum in 2010 and as such, it became the only museum in the world devoted to the art and craft of bookbinding. DSC00744iBut the reason for our visit was not its principal collection. To celebrate the 30th anniversary of his most famous work, “Cités Obscures” (Cities of the Fantastic), comic book artist François Schuiten, one of Belgium’s most famous illustrators, donated to the Roi Baudouin Foundation the original drawings and blueprints for certain volumes of this series. Wittockiana, which is part of the Roi Baudoin Foundation network has been entrusted with the keep and welfare of the entirety of the Schuiten Fund. And because part of the deal of donating his work to the Foundation was that it is shared with the public, Wittockiana was quick to organize an exhibition to mark the occasion: ”Le Temps des Cités” tagged as a ”journey of discovery of the universe created by François Schuiten”, features works from three different series/periods:

Les Terres Creuses”, created partly with his brother Luc; ”Métamorphoses, in collaboration with Claude Renard, a teacher at St. Luc whom he met during his studies; and ”Les Cités Obscures”, his most famous work, created with his friend Benoît Peeters.DSC00711i

DSC00724iDSC00726iAlthough Schuiten’s entire work is a visual and intellectual delight, I find him at his best when his fascination with architecture (inescapable background: both his parents where architects) becomes more apparent – the buildings, towers and skyscrapers in his fantastic cities are just that: fantastic.

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The exhibition is complemented by the artist’s drawing table and objects that jumped out of Schuiten’s stories:

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DSC00737i DSC00715i DSC00712i DSC00717i DSC00720i DSC00727iPart of the permanent exhibits was also available for viewing. Some exquisite examples of bookbinding, notebooks and an antique, majestic armchair:

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And a large collection of stunning objects of desire – the most surprising of all: The Baby Rattles. Collected over thirty years from antique, junk shops and auctions from all over the world and donated by Michel Wittock’s cousin Idès Cammaert, this astonishing collection of about 500 rattles covers a period of forty centuries. Some are made by the most humble materials like wood, dried fruit or terracotta but most are of ornate metalwork, sometimes precious such as gold and silver, decorated with rubies, mother of pearl, ivory, coral or crystal. 

Far from being just children’s toys, the rattles were status quo symbols, indicating the family’s wealth; they were often used as dummies or teething rings; also used as lucky charms to protect babies against disease and sorcery. 

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Bibliotheca Wittockiana
23 rue de Bemelstraat,
Brussels

Le Temps des Cités, until 19 April 2014

Free exhibition

All images by Konstantinos Implikian, except last two images via Heritage KBF 

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29 thoughts on “Le Temps des Cités, François Schuiten @ Bibliotheca Wittockiana

  1. Ooh, we just came to know of this exhibition while looking for Schuiten’s works in the BD shops. His illustrations, especially for Les Cités Obscures, are fantastic and especially impressive when viewed on an enlarged scale. Definitely will be making our way to Bibliotheca Wittockiana sometime soon! We’ve yet to go to this part of Brussels, so this would be a great reason to venture over.

    • He is a fantastic artist, isn’t he? Just like his fantastic cities! I love his architecture and wish I saw more of it in this everyday Brussels we live in. But Wittockiana itself is definitely worth discovering, the place and its hidden treasures alike. On a fine day, you could combine with a walk in the parc and lakes… bliss!

      • Yup, his illustrations are great. I’m waiting for the train museum (at Schaerbeek) that he’s curating/creating to open – supposed to be sometime this year 🙂

        Cool, hope that we’ll make it to Wittockiana on a sunny weekend for the exhibition and for a walk-around in the neighbourhood!

    • That’s how our little Brussels is… full of surprises! But I also learned something from you (although busy as I am lately, I forgot to tell you): about James/Miranda Barry and the Old Operating Theatre! What a formidable Orlando of a Wo/Man (I looked her up… it seems she had even given birth at some point?). No wonder she was so hardened, I mean they even amputated without anesthesia those days! And the place is so inspiring, I can smell those potions! xxx

  2. Oh, that is a very special balloon, I’ll have you know Jackie! For this is the balloon of Nadar, the famous photographer, journalist and balloonist (1820-1910), who, in 1863, built a huge (6000 m3) balloon named Le Géant (“The Giant”), which was the inspiration for Jules Verne’s ”Five Weeks in a Balloon”. Nadar appeared in that story as Ardan but he also appeared in Schuiten’s “Cités Obscures“ (Cities of the Fantastic)! xxx

    • Oh yes, I find Schuiten’s designs and stories fascinating; especially his cities are so dream-like! Not surprisingly, the urban legend of a mysterious city parallel to Brussels (which I choose to believe, well, in my daydreams) is thanks to Schuiten’s story Brüsel; the myth was later expanded by his ”documentary” – Le Dossier B.

  3. Really interesting museum! I find it rather fascinating with how much care and effort books used to be made. I would love to learn how to make a book like the old times 🙂 Thank you for sharing this, it was certainly a pleasure to be able to take a little tour.

    • That’s so true! I love how they made objects from noble materials and decorated them with such care! Of course industrial revolution and mass production made the same objects available to (almost) everyone – which is a good thing – but beauty, virtuosity and craftsmanship had to be sacrificed in the process… Still, I’m sure you’ll come across a good bookbinding workshop somewhere in Austria, once you find your way there 😀

    • You are very welcome! This was some kingly piece of equipment! I can imagine one sitting on it proclaiming something like ”My armchair is my kingdom and half my kingdom is yours”! I’d trade for the full kingdom right there and then! It doesn’t look very comfortable though…

  4. Oh, my….I want to visit. How beautiful François Schuiten’s work is and the permanent exhibits are a delight. I could have wandered and absorbed for hours.

    • I love Schuiten’s work but it was our first visit to Wittockiana… I was so pleasantly surprised as I had some idea about the permanent collections but actually being there among them was such a lovely experience. The history, the beauty, the significance… Like you, I felt I could stay there for hours (or I should say -more- hours, as we did spent a few anyway)… And we didn’t check out the Library yet!

    • … or you could do both! This blog doubles up as my diary so it’s really a mishmash of stuff I find interesting to share… But it would be great to read about your ”Brussels experience” … or look at Brussels as one of your amazing blasphemous collages 😉

      • …perhaps I will do both. I had once made a painting based on my time in Brussels called ‘boom façade’. Unfortunately I destroyed it. I think that I will now have to make a collage based on Brussels.

      • Nice title! There is also a place in-between Brussels and Antwerp called Boom! Nothing much, never been, just crossing (and shopping: it seems all the furniture shops of Belgium are lined along that road). You had your reasons for destroying your painting; don’t know how good but do know that, yes please Sir, you’ll have to make a collage now!

      • I’ll get right to it. I’ll see what paper stock I have relating to Brussels. Can you suggest any weird references to Brussels. I’ll can see it now…waffles and Magritte.

      • OMG you just said it! If I can think of something else I’ll be sure to come back but this is just perfect… wait… you could add a tag like ”A la Mort Subite” for good measure.

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