The 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. But 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.
Although 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.
The exhibition is complemented by the artist’s drawing table and objects that jumped out of Schuiten’s stories:
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.
23 rue de Bemelstraat,
Le Temps des Cités, until 19 April 2014