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Antwerp Director's Blog

By Katie Walmsley, Director
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Monday, 5 p.m...

Arrive at Antwerp Airport with my camerawoman, Nem. We've just taken a pretty small prop plane from London City Airport and even though the journey's short the plane jumps up and down a lot and we're relieved to be there in one piece. Antwerp airport consists of basically one room, so it doesn't take long before we're out of the plane and in a cab.

8 p.m...

We head out for dinner in the center of Antwerp. Nem is five months pregnant so her goal is to eat a lot, then go straight to bed, which is fine with me. It looks like Antwerp has some fun bars but it's freezing and not that tempting to walk around and find them, even if we'd wanted to go out on the town.

Tuesday, 10.30 a.m...

We meet the artist Luc Tuymans, outside the Museum of Fine Arts. Luc is very dapper and looks like he's been kitted out by Armani. He wants to show us a painting by the French painter Jean Fouquet, of the Madonna in the colors of the French flag, which is one of the most valuable paintings in the world. Apparently the Louvre in Paris offered 17 of its paintings to the Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp in exchange for the Fouquet, but they refused.

11.30 a.m...

Luc takes us to the Museum of Modern Art, where we get a chance to see one of his works, which is pretty amazing. What is also great is being taken around a gallery by an artist- - Luc has a way of approaching the art and discussing it that is completely unique. We also pass a video interview on a loop that is with Luc's wife, Carla, who is also an artist.

12.30 p.m...

We walk to one of Luc's favorite cafes where we sit to do the interview. He tells us about his recent exhibition in the States, "Proper," which explores the state of the U.S. today; the confusing situation it's in, and includes a controversial portrait of Condoleezza Rice, as well as a depiction of the World Trade Center after 9/11.

1.30 p.m...

We get a cab which takes us on a tour around Antwerp. We stop in the main square and Luc tells us the history of the town hall, and the fountain in front of it. Antwerp to me looks like a mixture of Amsterdam, Prague and Cologne. It's not very big but it seems like there's loads to see. Luc also points out quite a few designer shops, started by Antwerp-based designers who went to the fashion school there. These include Ann Demeulemeester and Dries Van Noten, so it seems there's a disproportionate amount of designers and artists coming out of such a small place. Luc also tells us that he attended the same art school in Antwerp as Van Gogh; the same art school that apparently kicked both Van Gogh and himself out.

2 p.m...

We arrive at the docks, which Luc says stretch all the way up to Rotterdam. Luc takes us into a warehouse style building called "Extra Space" which is often used to showcase new artists or hold exhibitions. It's a great space but unfortunately is closing down soon. It's right next to all the docks, and apparently to Europe's biggest lock. There are also loads of party boats parked around it; which in summer apparently cruise up and down to Rotterdam like big floating clubs, and constitute a lot of Antwerp's summer nightlife.

3 p.m...

We stop for a quick lunch; Nem looks like she's about to pass out having run around with the camera and no food for hours. Luc tells us about his history; he was a bouncer for 13 years, which seems at odds with being a painter, but he says it gave him a lot of insight into humans and behavior that helped him create much of his work. He tells us some fairly scary stories about bouncing, and also some interesting facts about some of the less salubrious sides of Antwerp; the drugs trade, the influence of the mafia in the city.

3.30 p.m...

We go to the Plantin-Moretus Museum, a museum of book printing and one of the oldest in Antwerp where they keep the famous Gutenberg Bible, as well as loads of original maps of the world that were made by explorers. There's a class of school kids drawing in the museum and Luc is really interested in what they're doing. He teaches art workshops for kids often, and at the moment has been teaching a workshop on art for kids that deals with the subject of bullying -- so he's interested in new young talent and how kids express themselves.

4 p.m...

We drive to the Diamond District, which is also next to the area where all the Hasidic Jews of Antwerp live. Antwerp has one of the largest Hasidic populations in Europe -- and they all tend to reside in the same area. We then walk past endless diamond shops -- it's interesting that there are so many in the same place...

4.30 p.m...

We finish at our final destination; the central square in one of the prime immigrant areas of Antwerp; where many different nationalities come together to live. This is where Luc's studio is; and it's one of his favorite areas of Antwerp that he believes represents the diversity and character of the town. He talks about Belgian politics, and his fears about the re-emergence of the far right who he thinks seek to destroy the diversity of the town and present a dangerous threat. On that note we end the filming day and Luc goes to his studio to continue his work. We head back to the airport to take another small bumpy plane back to London...



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