‘Cities like open-air museums’ – this is what Belgium’s most prolific artist in the public space dreams of. Part of Arne Quinze’s wish came true on Brussels’ Louvain Road, where one of his immense sculptures took over in 2008. Through the street leading to the Flemish Parliament weaved a spiky cloud of bright orange wooden sticks – it was baptized The Sequence. At 80 meters longs and 15 meters high, the giant became an integral part of the landscape until it was eventually taken down six years later. The Sequence was always meant to be a temporary display; after deconstruction, all of the wood was recycled.
Brussels’ cloud of wood may have evaporated in 2014, but by that time, a new electric orange – and permanent – Quinze creation had already landed in Ostend. In 2012, the coastal town’s Heroes of the Sea Square suddenly found itself populated by massive blocks of dented metal. Rock Strangers, as Quinze calls them, are located in between the sweeping views of the North Atlantic and the stretched-out walkway, attracting curious passersby.
Delve further into Fabre’s oeuvre, and you’ll discover Totem was actually a postscript in the Antwerp-born artist’s beetle period. At the behest of art-loving Queen Paola, Fabre let loose his odd genius on the Royal Palace’s Hall of Mirrors two years earlier. The result: a ceiling – and chandelier – covered in glorious mosaics, composed of over 1.5 million blue-greenish beetle wing cases. The beauty of the work, called Heaven of Delight, is striking, as is the knowledge that it consists of what are essentially shiny carcasses. According to Fabre, the masterpiece hides several symbols – the legs of giraffes, severed hands, and skulls – that criticize Belgium’s colonial past in the Congo, though the palace itself and its tens of thousands of visitors have yet to discover them.
Ready to take a deep dive, the acrobatic Le Plongeur stands on his hands on a steel bow over the Albert Canal. The almost 80-year-old sculpture by Romanian artist Idel Lanchelevici was originally made for the International Exposition of Water in Liège in 1939 to celebrate the completion of the canal. Thanks to a great reception, the city ordered a copy in more durable materials for permanent display, but due to the Second World War, the statue wound up in the basement of the Palace of Fine Arts for nearly five decades. Dug up in 1998 and restored in all its glory, Le Plongeur resumed his balancing act in 2000. At one point, the daredevil even got a bright yellow buoy put around his waist by a concerned citizen.
The Beaufort Triennial has produced some strange sights on the Belgian coast over the years. Besides Jan Fabre’s Searching for Utopia – an unusual self-portrait in the form of the artist riding a massive golden sea turtle – another work from the first edition has earned a permanent seaside spot. Caterpillar 5bis, created by the unconventional Wim Delvoye, looks like a rusted crawler tractor from afar until you see laser-cut filigree and an ornate church tower that have been worked into the piece of art. Part of the same series in stainless steel and boasting even more Gothic flourishes is Delvoye’s Cement Truck, currently residing in a Brussels park.