In the midst of an increasingly heated political climate in the US, CNN released an ad campaign with an apple, stating, “This is an apple. Some people might try and tell you that it’s a banana.” It was a searing commentary on the administration’s allegations of “fake news,” but those with a penchant for surrealism might recognize the parallel with one of Renée Magritte’s most famous works, La trahison des images (“The Treachery of Images”—a painted image of a pipe that Magritte captioned Ceci n’est pas une pipe. (“This is not a pipe.”)
“The famous pipe. How people reproached me for it! And yet, could you stuff my pipe?” questioned the artist. “No, it’s just a representation, is it not? So if I had written on my picture ‘This is a pipe,’ I’d have been lying.” Such was Magritte’s lifelong exploration of the intersection between life and art. Known primarily for his Surrealist art, his expansive body of work also included commercial endeavors for advertising agencies as well as posters for the Belgian Communist Party. In short, he wasn’t beyond earning a living.
Magritte has been long favored in his home country of Belgium, with the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium showcasing his works since his early successes. Collaborative efforts secured the five single-artist musuems you must visit! former Hôtel Altenloh as the site of a museum solely dedicated to his work, the Musée Magritte Museum, which celebrates its tenth anniversary in 2019. More than 230 works of art and archives are displayed, including a multidisciplinary space dedicated to photography, sculptures, films, and more. Designed to be experienced chronologically, the collection begins on the third floor with Magritte’s Constructionist period followed by the artist’s return to Brussels and advertising work, and concluding with his “vache” period—an emotional response to World War II, a failing marriage, and tumultuous relationship with the Parisian art world. The museum’s temporary exhibitions continue to push boundaries and explore the relationship between Magritte’s work and contemporary artists.
Brussels thrives with cultural attractions, from special events to design-savvy restaurants and hotels. The recently opened MAD Brussels offers a creative hub for Belgian designers and artists, as well as public space for exhibitions and seminars such as “Uncovered,” a collection of fashion photography and filmmaking by Brussels-based artist Pierre Debusschere.