Brussels Bonus

Brussels Bonus
With Brussels only 90 minutes away from Paris by train, there is really no excuse for not popping into neighboring Belgium. That is what is so wonderful about being in Paris – a short train ride away and you can find yourself in another culture, experience different customs and hear different languages. The three alternate cheek kisses given in greeting is the tip-off that you have left Paris and arrived in Brussels. The gaufres (Belgian waffles) vans, abundant chocolatiers and bilingual signs in Flemish and French are also giveaways. Brussels has come a long way in the last ten years in terms of putting itself on the global contemporary art map. It is near enough to Paris to get the run-off benefits, but can still offer lower prices and collectors are taking note. The clothes designers are producing chic, funky styles and the restaurants, cafes and tea rooms seem to have an edge that tradition-bound Parisian establishments lack. And the museums, though few in number, are well worth a visit. In 2009 Brussels inaugurated a new museum dedicated to René Magritte (1868-1967), Belgium’s world-renowned surrealist artist. The hundreds of paintings, works on paper, sculptures, and illustrated books reveal Magritte’s witty and thought-provoking take on art. His intended goal was to challenge our perceptions of reality by reversing visual expectations and presenting a surreal world which does not exist as we know it. The representational depiction of objects as other than what they seem is typical of his work. He also played with language, purposely renaming objects and questioning whether an object actually exists without its accompanying name and vice versa. His iconic painting of a pipe with the sentence “This is not a pipe” has entered into global lexicon. Meanwhile, back in Paris, this particular shop has borrowed liberally from Magritte’s original oeuvre…! Located in the Place Royale, the Magritte Museum is part of the Musée des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Arts), not to be confused with the René Magritte Museum which is housed in his former home and concentrates on his personal life. Since being nominated by the New York Times as one of the hot museums to see, the tourist crowds have been considerable. On a brief visit to Brussels last year, I was unable to get a ticket, but the mad rush seems to be over and tickets are now readily available. It was a pleasure to see his famous works first-hand, such as The Listening Room, which features a small empty room crowded by its only occupant, a giant green apple. But a word of warning regarding picture-taking: Being under the impression that cameras were OK if no flash was used, I snapped a photo and was immediately set upon by a guard who made me actually delete the photo I had taken! The museum is a wonderful testament to the singular mind of a unique artist who rarely compromised on his artistic philosophy. Along with artists like Yves Klein, Magritte was part of an artistic movement searching for a means to express a new reality. He refused to explain his work, preferring it to remain unencumbered by conventional thinking. He purposely gave unrelated, non-sensical titles to his paintings. When asked once what he had in mind when painting, he answered, “I do not have an idea; I only have an image in mind. You see what I painted. There is nothing behind it.” Considering that the very same artist also claimed that “the art of painting is the art of thinking”, we can be fairly certain Magritte’s works were very carefully conceived, albeit according to his own logic. Trying to get inside Magritte’s head… If you’re coming to France (or for that matter anywhere) you can reserve your hotel here. To rent a car, Bonjour Paris recommends Auto Europe. To read more about René Magritte:

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Paris-born Lilianne Milgrom is an internationally acclaimed artist and author residing in the greater Washington, DC, area. Her works can be found in private and institutional collections in the United States, Australia, Israel, France, Switzerland, England, and India. Aside from her blog, she has written essays and articles for publications such as Ceramics Art and Perception, Ceramics Monthly, Bonjour Paris, Dans le ventre des femme and the Huffington Post. "L’Origine: The Secret Life of the World’s Most Erotic Masterpiece" (Little French Girl Press, 2020) is her first novel.