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The filling in our trip south was a ferry over the Channel and a trip to Brugge and Oostende.  We had originally intended to visit Lens and the new (ish) Louvre extension but the French Bank Holiday closure put paid to that.  In Brugge we were heading for the Groeningemuseum when we chanced upon the Gruuthusemuseum.  Although we didn’t know it the venue has only recently reopened with a major exhibition devoted, and that’s the right word really, to an exhibition of the Gruuthuse Manuscript.  As it happened this was a real treat. Perhaps the most compelling moment of the day was standing in the small chapel that looks into the Church of Our Lady next door listening to the specially composed musical work that incorporated contemporary themes with those of the manuscript.  An object lesson in combining the past and the present.   Onto the Groeningemuseum where the real treats are the early Flemish masters…with Jan Van Eyck as the standout masterpiece.  We spent a fair bit of time admiring the crease in the carpet at the base of the painting!  The chronological layout of the place is an object lesson in the way in which great art always follows commerce.  As Brugge declined as an economic powerhouse so did the art.  One was left musing on whether this still applies – modern travel can see the artist operating anywhere…and still be where the money is…and, of course the money can travel even more easily!  The last works on display (by Raoul De Keyser) are perhaps a case in point.  They sit alongside his old teacher and mentor, Roger Raveel who didn’t have quite the same illustrious last two decades to his career, one suspects, as he had neither the good luck that a curator had an international platform to present him nor the frenzied contemporary international art market to pick him up and disseminate him instantly around the globe (it was Jan Hoet curating De Keyser in Documenta 9 that ‘broke’ him internationally – and paradoxically Hoet was criticised at the time, 1992, for including too many ‘obscure’ Belgian artists in his selection).

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We left the Museum and took a turn around the city, along with a great many tourists and locals (it was Bank Holiday in Belgium too but they keep the Museums open!), that looked particularly beautiful on one of the first really warm and sunny Spring days and took in the sights…of course nowadays framed for me at least by In Bruges, the fabulous movie by Martin McDonagh.  Here’s the tower that features in the film but of course in real life there’s no way Ken (Brendan Gleeson) could have landed that far from the front of it for real and the constant traffic that passes a few yards further out from it would have ruined some of the tense tracking shots in the script!

Onto Oostende…I recalled that the Mu Zee reopened a few years back (actually now I looked it up seven years ago…) and I made a note then that I should find a time to take a visit in (we annually travel past the city heading south).  It’s rather unprepossessing when contrasted with the UK seaside ventures…for a start it’s nowhere near the seafront but rather tucked up a very indifferent minor road off one of the in-town shopping streets.  But inside it’s a bit of a tardis with floors and sub floors filled with minor works by fairly obscure artists (though not by any means all bad) and the real masterpieces tucked away in spaces you might easily miss.

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Chief amongst the ‘star’ works is James Ensor’s self portrait (above).   But there were other things of note including one of Andre Cadere’s sticks, part of a show curated by Lynda Morris that I missed at Modern Art Oxford, and that documented this most fascinating of artists.  A curious venue with curious curatorial decisions but fascinating all the same.

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