Museums Obituaries News Belgium

Jan Hoet, pugnacious Belgian museum director, has died, aged 77

Founder of SMAK in Ghent and director of Documenta IX didn't pull his punches

Jan Hoet once got into a boxing ring with an artist

Jan Hoet, the Belgian-born curator and founding director of Ghent’s contemporary art museum SMAK was a charismatic curator and keen amateur boxer. He fought a performance art/boxing match with a much younger US artist in 1999 before a packed crowd. He also stood unsuccessfully for the European parliament. “Art has given me an understanding of what politics should be,” he said. He died Thursday, aged 77, at a Ghent hospital after a long illness.

When he had to retire at 60 as the director of SMAK, the railway station turned casino that he was instrumental in turning into a contemporary art gallery, he received a call from the mayor of Herford, near Hannover in Germany, to run Marta, a new museum it had commissioned Frank Gehry to design. Although the only "Herfords" he knew where a breed of cow, Hoet leapt at the chance to create the new institution combining art and design. It meant curbing Gehry’s love of curving walls. The Belgian flew to the architect’s Santa Monica studio and they both agreed that while the roofs of the brick-clad structure could swoop and curve, the walls would be straight enough for the curator to hang what he wanted and where. The inaugural show in 2005 called “My Private Heroes” was typically Hoetian, an eclectic mix of works by artists including Marina Abramovic, Chris Burden, Gavin Turk, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Joseph Beuys as well as history paintings, ephemera and a yellow jersey worn by a Tour de France winner.

At the news of his death today, the Belgian prime minister tweeted that the Belgian art world “loses a father”.

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28 Feb 14
16:51 CET


showing a huge shocking pink dress (by Beverly Semmes) in the center of a church for the Sonsbeek 2001 Locus Focus exhibition is a perfect example of his brilliance with a dash of bravado. a hero gone to the rebel side of heaven.

27 Feb 14
22:11 CET


Great man who put Belgian Artists and Art on the map RIP Sir, may you find art in heaven...

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