Gaasbeek Castle’s Sleeping nude Beauties

When director Luc Vanackere took over Gaasbeek Castle in 2003 with its 40 hectares of grounds about 10 kilometres west of Brussels,  he felt that as a museum, Gaasbeek was rather static – a place “you visited once and were not inclined to come back to”.

Though the gardens located in the municipality of Haasdonk Lennik in the province of Flemish Brabant, are worth a visit more than once.

The County of Flanders (Dutch: Graafschap Vlaanderen, French: Comté de Flandre) was one of the territories constituting the Low Countries. The county existed from 862 to 1795. As one of the original secular fiefs of France and for centuries one of the most affluent regions in Europe it was the county for which this castle was build.  It belonged to the The Duchy of Brabant, a historical region in the Low Countries of which its territory consisted essentially of the three modern-day Belgian provinces of Flemish Brabant, Walloon Brabant and Antwerp, the Brussels-Capital Region and most of the present-day Dutch province of North Brabant.

The Count of Egmont who headed one of the wealthiest and most powerful families in the Low Countries had put his eyes on the beautiful castle and made it a small heaven on earth in 1565, 23 years after he had inherited the estates of his elder brother Charles in Holland and 6 years after he was appointed stadtholder of Flanders and Artois.

The present castle obtained its pseudo-medieval appearance as the result of a renovation during the years 1887-1898. The works were executed by the architect Charles Albert and ordered by the Marquis d’Arconati Visconti who owned the castle at that time. His widow Marie Peyrat (d. 1922) donated the castle to the Belgian state, including the art collection and the grounds.

Gaasbeek Castle’s 700-year plus history is punctuated by treason, decapitated counts, feuding dukes, marauding marquises and family rivalries. Yet upon entering the 21st-century, the castle was in danger of becoming too cosy, too weighed down and predictable in its role of historic house. Therefore the present director of this castle owned by the Flemish Community (Vlaamse Gemeenschap), Luc Vanackere looked for a way to have people coming back to this museum.

“The castle has to relate to our lives now – here, today – and shouldn’t only be a nostalgic bath in the past,” he says. “It’s an approach that doesn’t please everyone, but with the world of heritage as competitive as any cultural sector, how to be open to the present without alienating the past is an equation that many a historic site wrestles with.”

Nude Swimmers in Bruges - Spencer Tunick

Bruges Theatre - Spencer Tunick

When you think “Castle” you think of princes and princesses but also of “Sleeping Beauty”. That is also what the American artist Spencer Tunick could think of. His images of crowds of nude people amongst landscapes both urban and natural are world-famous. In 2005 he brought already Bruges  (Brugge) to its naked truth and filled the whole theatre of which the 28-year old Charlotte Logghe explained ” it had prevailed a good zusammengehoerigkeitsgefuehl, but it was extremely cold unfortunately.” On February 2006 Spencer came back to Bruges for a small installation with ‘only 67’ males.

In the work of Tunick men and women are made pure elementsof creation. Some think that “Tunick’s work is that it really drives home the point that there is absolutely nothing sexual, prurient or nasty about human nudity. ” But here we get just pure forms free of any connotation of the wrong thought. Everybody the same and one with nature.

For Tunick the invitation of the museum director was the first time a museum had approached the artist with a fixed concept.

Tunick visited Gaasbeek Castle one May morning at 6.00. Whatever he experienced in the dawn hours was enough to make him agree to the commission almost immediately.

Tunick’s provocative photographs are a cast-iron guarantee of media attention, and when hundreds of locals volunteered to take their clothes off to pose and pillow-fight on one of the many rainy July days that masqueraded this year as the Belgian summer, the results made it as far as The New York Times.

This masterphotographer managed to get a lot of people early in the morning out of the feathers, quick in the clothes, to go out of the clothes for a long time.  At 3.30 a.m. the first wanna bees were already at the doors of the castle and around 500 of the 1600 inscribed were already present. Rain or wind does not prevent them from standing still and to be serious. Lying on the muddy  wet ground should be no problem for the non fashion shoots. “Now whipe your asses, get the dirt off”, shouts the commander.

800 mensen uit de kleren voor spencer tunick

When during the takes an extra tumbles of her beer crates, on the gravelground, on which the artist refers her promptly to the background of the scene, the men, that follow the early morningshoot  sympathize all with her.

Revealing its roots as a fortress, Gaasbeek’s architecture is introspective – what Vanackere describes as a “dark labyrinth”. It’s all carved wood, reds and browns, stained glass windows, tapestries and heavy wall coverings – but a combination of the light and contrasts produces a dialogue where neither artwork nor setting threatens to overwhelm the other.

Foto: Sascha PrabitzAll the naked bodies in the pictures bring you up in higher spheres. They give the castle an extra dimension, in a way of a certain elevation. “there was nakedness but nobody of the participants felt naked.” Nudity is always made to  art by this photographer. And some of the photographs seem also to be just a joke. (I like the pillowfight as a smile to this hard commercial world.)

The exhibition Sleeping Beauties (9 September – 13 November 2011) presents a selection of contemporary artworks that all in a different way touch upon the broad theme of sleep and dream.

Spencer chose to explore a variety of different themes for his contribution to the Sleeping Beauties project.
Sword wielding knights (without the shining armour); The King, the young prince, the advisers and the royal guard; Maidens in fairytale head-dresses and enchanted trees.
Women fall back into the arms of their men in front of the castle, before all slowly fall into a deep slumber lasting a hundred years. The long slumber ends with a massive pillow fight, the magnitude of which has never been seen before. We all love a good fairy tale, and Gaasbeek Castle provided the perfect setting.

But not only Tunick brings in his phpotographs. Sleeping Beauties is installed throughout the rooms, corridors and stairs of Gaasbeek castle – a multi-media exhibition by an array of international artists, including French artist Sophie Calle and Flemish artists David Claerbout, Hans Op de Beeck and Jan Fabre. Dutch artist Desiree Dolron’s “Xteriors VIII” is a meticulous photograph that was nine years in the making. Bringing Rembrandt’s famous “The Anatomy Lesson of Dr Nicolaes Tulp” and the spirit of the Flemish Primitives and to her staged portrait, the image of an androgynous child, drained of colour, seemingly laid out in death and overseen by darkly dressed mourning attendants, is both tragic and achingly beautiful.

According to Emma Firmin is Sleeping Beauties  a thoughtful exhibition, with themes that sometimes roam into uncomfortable places, yet should satisfy both the dedicated contemporary art follower keen to see works in an alternative resonance and the day-tripper who has one eye on the art and the other on a beer in one of the nearby cafes.

“Unashamedly intellectual without being indulgently baffling, its dreamscape is also populated by a number of older works loaned from collections across Europe that give a historical context to the way in which sleep has inspired art.

Presented without spotlight or comment, this slumbering undercurrent is often deliberately easy to miss, but as with French artist Alphonse Eugène Lecadre’s sumptuous 19th-century painting of a mother and child asleep, it provides the visual equivalent of waking up and realising: It’s ok, it’s just a dream.

Or is it?”

Press coverage has been abundant for this installation.
Kleine Zeitung | De Redactie | Editie Pajot | Gazet van Antwerpen | | | | The Daily Mail |International Business Times | Persinfo | |
The installation has been featured on a website that caters to the crane industry:

The Gaasbeek Castle homepage can be found here
More information about the Sleeping Beauties project

Nude swimmers in Bruges: Brugge, 7 Mei 2005: Spencer Tunick

Spencer Tunick in Bruges, Belgium, May 2005: A personal experience in Bruges

Pictures: Spencer Tunick’s naked Belgium artwork


About Marcus Ampe

Retired dancer, choreographer, choreologist Founder of the Dance impresario office and archive: Danscontact-Dansarchief plus the Association for Bible scholars, the Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" and "From Guestwriters" and creator of the site "Messiah for all". - Gepensioneerd danser, choreograaf, choreoloog. Stichter van Danscontact-Dansarchief plus van de Vereniging voor Bijbelvorsers, de Lifestyle magazines "Stepping Toes" en "From Guestwriters" en maker van de site "Messiah for all".
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1 Response to Gaasbeek Castle’s Sleeping nude Beauties

  1. Pingback: Indien u nu zou sterven | Marcus' s Space

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