Belgian surrealist artist René Magritte would have celebrated his 125th birthday this year, and Brussels is determined to keep his work alive with a street tour of eight monumental collages.
Created by French street artist Julien de Casabianca, XXL reproductions of iconic characters from Magritte paintings will adorn facades across the city throughout the second half of the year, from Plaisirs d’Été to Plaisirs d’Hiver.
In a fittingly surreal tone, Brussels alderman for Culture, Tourism and Major Events Delphine Houba joked that “this is not an exhibition, but we are very happy that it is taking place.”
Keeping Magritte alive
On Friday, she unveiled the ‘In the footsteps of Magritte’ route – initiated by the Magritte Foundation, the Magritte Museum and the City of Brussels – in the presence of Mayor Philippe Close and Magritte Foundation President Charly Herscovici.
“Magritte must always remain alive, and the best way to keep him alive is to exhibit him both in museums and in the streets,” said the foundation president.
The alderman for Culture was also delighted with this “open-air exhibition, accessible to everyone, 24 hours a day.” She noted that although René Magritte was not originally from Brussels, the Belgian artist lived there for 25 years. “He himself undoubtedly strolled the streets and observed the skies of the capital," she said. "In this way, you can walk in the footsteps of his life and work."
The collages portray characters from Magritte's works
“People don’t always feel comfortable going into a museum,"Ms. Houba continued, "but art is for everyone, so it’s important that it’s in the street."
For this urban tour, Julien de Casabianca has extracted characters from Magritte’s original works, such as 'the men in bowler hats'. The Corsican street artist was inspired in particular by the paintings 'La réponse imprévue,' 'Le Maitre d’école' and 'L’Heureux Donateur.' His huge, ephemeral collages of paper and glue made from biodegradable, plant-based raw materials can be seen in the city centre on the facades of the Royal Library of Belgium (KBR), the Novotel, Hotel Amigo and the Régie des Bâtiments, among others.
The surrealist walk takes between 20 and 40 minutes to complete, depending on photo breaks. It can be viewed from 30 June 2023 to 7 January 2024.
Common thread between Magritte and Julien de Casabianca
The “common thread” between René Magritte and international artist Julien de Casabianca is that the Corsican also “decontextualises objects and puts them in other contexts to create a strange environment,” Emmanuel Angeli, strategic and artistic manager for organiser Brussels Major Events, explained. “What interests this street artist is that the great painting of institutions meets a practice of spontaneous inspiration. He thinks about how to return masterpieces to the street.”
Julien de Casabianca's creations have been exhibited in Germany, France, the Netherlands, the UK, Bulgaria, Switzerland, Norway, Japan, the USA, Armenia and elsewhere. The organisers say his work “is respectful of its environment and poses no risk of damage to facades.”