The Lost Archive at Verbeke Foundation
Verbeke Foundation, Stekene
In the midst of nature, in the East Flemish municipality of Stekene, you can visit one of the largest private art collections in Europe. The warehouses of Geert Verbeke's former transport company have been converted into unique exhibition spaces. Derek Blyth was especially charmed by Archive for the Future by the Amsterdam artist Jacobus Kloppenburg.
It takes a bit of effort to find the Verbeke Foundation. You need a car, and Google mapping and a bit of luck as well. You have to look out for the McDonald’s sign poking above the trees. Turn off the road here and look for a parking space among the rusting cranes and heaps of wood.
Geert Verbeke used to run a road haulage business on this site. He turned the place over to art in the summer of 2007. It has slowly evolved into a rambling, overgrown collection with strange rusting sculptures hidden among the trees and odd art creations stored in an enormous glass greenhouse.
Glass House by Jason van der Woude © Tom Christiaens
Verbeke has acquired some striking artworks over the years, including a giant vase by Andrea Branzi that once stood in the courtyard of the Ghent Design Museum. But his most ambitious acquisition is Amsterdam artist Jacobus Kloppenburg’s Archive for the Future.
Grande Vaso by Andrea Branzi © Tom Christiaens
Born in 1930 on Amsterdam’s Lauriergracht, Kloppenburg grew up during the war and turned to art as a reaction against tyranny. He created works out of junk he found on the street, slowly filling every room in his three-floor canal house.
He called it his Archive for the Future. Built up over 40 years, it was a mix of drawings, sketches, paintings and objects picked up in the street – anything from a jam jar to a newspaper.
But then disaster struck in 1997. Kloppenburg’s landlord wanted to turn the house into luxury apartments. Everything had to go. The artist found a museum in Germany willing to take the collection, but then the city council suddenly announced that everything had to be removed, all 52,000 kilos. It was a fire hazard, they said. A lifetime of art was taken away in 13 shipping containers. Eleven years later, it was all burned.
Archive for the Future by Jacobus Kloppenburg © Tom Christiaens
The story didn’t end there, because Verbeke decided to reconstruct the archive. He created a complex warren of rooms inside 13 stacked shipping containers and filled it with Kloppenburg’s drawings and constructions.
It’s a fascinating place to explore with odd lookout posts and round windows with views of the flat Flemish landscape. Something, at least, has been saved from the Archive of the Future.