We sat down with artistic director and scenographer Bob Verhelst, who designed the scenography for many of MoMu’s exhibitions, including Madame Grès.
How would you describe the work of a scenographer?
The scenographer shapes the exhibition. Unlike the curator, who works on the content. The scenographer decides on the overall look, the hanging and placing of objects, the light and the colour, how the visitor moves through the exhibition. By doing so, the scenographer supports the theme of the exhibition and creates the atmosphere that fits that theme That is why the scenographer is involved in the preparations of the exhibition in a very early stage and works closely with the curator. Sometimes the scenographer can also act as curator.
MoMu and you have worked together in the past on various exhibitions. How did the collaboration between MoMu and you originate?
Coincidentally actually. I just came back from a year in Hong Kong and at that moment Linda Loppa [previous director of ModeNatie] was organising MoMu’s first exhibition. Because the building was not ready at the time, we spread the exhibition over various museums in Antwerp. The theme was how geometric patterns form the basis of a design. We worked on this idea together and I was both scenographer and curator for this exhibition.
For the scenography of Madame Grès you worked with sculptor Renato Nicolodi. How did this collaboration come about?
I saw the initial exhibition of Madame Grès, Couture à l’oeuvre, at the Musée Antoine Bourdelle in Paris. Musée Bourdelle is a sculpture museum and I thought this ambiance fitted Madame Grès perfectly. She actually wanted to become a sculptor!
That is why I wanted to work with a contemporary sculptor and I felt this perfect click between the work of Renato and Madame Grès. They have a similar approach to the use of references to other cultures and civilisations, e.g. antiquity. Bringing together sculpture and fashion feels very fresh and new.
Which challenges did you encounter while preparing Madame Grès?
Textiles are very sensitive. Some pieces at the initial exhibition in Musée Bourdelle could no longer be exposed to light because they were too fragile. That is why this exhibition contains a variety of new pieces from museums, galleries and private collectors. We also explore the link between the past and the current by adding pieces from contemporary designers.
What did you enjoy most about preparing this exhibition?
I really enjoyed all the preparatory work: thinking about the concept, working with Renato who had carte blanche in his pieces, that feeling of artistic freedom. Furthermore, it is fantastic to open these boxes and see these pieces for the first time, to place them, to play with light and shadow and to see how the space slowly comes together. To see what you had in mind become reality, that is always exciting.