Middelheim’s history in a nutshell
The Middle Ages
Middelheim is very old. In 1342, an unknown author referred to ‘a city called Middelheim'. The oldest landowner that can still be traced was Laureys Van Aerschot de Jonghe. He owned the grounds and estates in 1399.
16th to 20th century
From the sixteenth century onward, many Antwerp families had their summer residence there. The 'castle' was converted in the eighteenth century in the Louis XVI style, probably to plans of the Parisian architect, B. Guimard.
In 1910, the Middelheim estate was bought by the Municipality of Antwerp, to prevent it being parcelled out. The Municipality had it opened up as a public park and made parts of the grounds available for the establishment of the Middelheim hospital, the University of Antwerp and the Pastoral and Theological Centre.
Open-air sculpture museum
In 1950, an international sculpture exhibition was organised for the first time in the Middelheim Park (20 hectares). At the suggestion of Mayor Lode Craeybeckx, the town council decided to create a permanent open-air sculpture museum in the grounds. The internationally renowned biennial sculpture exhibitions have been taking place since 1951, always in the summer months. The event takes place in the grounds of Middelheim-Laag, on the far side of the Middelheim Park. In 1989, the 20th biennial concluded the series.
The Braem Pavilion
The Braem Pavilion was inaugurated in 1971, to the design of the Antwerp architect, Renaat Braem. Here you can admire smaller sculptures and works from the collection that cannot be displayed in the open air.
Antwerp 1993 Capital of Culture
Since Antwerp 1993 Capital of Culture, the museum has been following a new direction and the acquisition budget is being spent on contemporary art. Work is acquired at international level, from artists who are already recognised in contemporary art history.
The year 2000 was a turning point for Middelheim, when the park was extended by 7 hectares, so that the total area of the museum now covers 27 hectares. This new space provides the museum with the possibility of reorganising the collection and of holding more temporary exhibitions. In May 2000, a new storage room was opened in Middelheim-Hoog, designed by the Bruges architect, Stéphane Beel.
Since 2006, the Middelheim Museum's activities have been expanded to include activities outside its own walls. Thanks to the 'Beeld in de Stad' advisory council, young artists and the ‘Kiel Neighbourhoods’ project, the Middelheim Museum has developed a new and rejuvenated network of varied artistic and social contacts. In 2011 these activities were taken over by the city of Antwerp's arts policy coordinator.
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