A dispute over the desirability of spending millions of euros of public money on a museum over a popular newspaper comic strip featuring an obese anthropomorphic cat is dividing opinion within Belgium’s art community.
The Brussels-Capital Region’s decision to approve the construction of the Musée du Chat on Rue Royale, the location of some of the country’s most respected cultural institutions, has sparked what artists Denis De Rudder and Sandrine Morgante have described as “Feelings of misunderstanding and concern, even consternation and revolt” in a letter and petition addressed to Rudi Vervoort, Minister-President of the Brussels-Capital Region.
Le Chat, a comic strip in which readers are invited to indulge in the absurd reasonings of an expressionless human-sized cat in a suit, appeared in Le Soir, an evening newspaper, by Belgian comedian Philippe Geluck from 1983 to 2013, becoming into something of an iconic figure among the French-speaking Walloon community in Belgium. In 2008, a statue of Le Chat, depicting the character holding an umbrella that rains water from inside, was erected in the center of the Belgian city of Hotton.
On Thursday, the Société d’Aménagement Urbain (SAU), the body responsible for the construction of public infrastructure in Brussels, received a planning permit allowing it to start construction works on the seven floors of the new museum and the 4,000 meters square footage.
The internal works are being paid for by Geluck, but the public financing of part of the 9.38 million euro price of the building has been described as a “provocation” by those concerned about the famous Museum of Modern Art of the country, located in the The same street in the historic center of Brussels, near the Musée Magritte Museum, which presents the works of Belgium’s most famous surrealist artist, has been closed since 2011 pending a promised renovation.
“We are residents of Brussels who are deeply attached to the cultural life of our city and, for most of us, actors from the art world,” the petitioners write. “The collection of the Museum of Modern Art is made up of paintings and sculptures designed to be seen in a museum, unlike the drawings of Philippe Geluck, which are made to be reproduced. The art-loving public would not understand that the exhibition of a rich and varied ensemble, built up over decades, whose quality cannot be doubted, is preferred to that of the productions of a press cartoonist invested in a process of self-promotion ”.
Nearly 4,000 signatories have added their names to the call for a rethink.
Other critics have recognized Le Chat’s contribution to Belgian culture. “We recognize ourselves in this feline that does not stop teaching us about ourselves; it is precisely a graphic representation of our world and its absurdities ”, argues the writer Jean-Luc Outers in Le Soir. But a cat museum? I am dreaming?”
The museum is due to open in 2024.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism