Site-specific installations, mixed media, Museum Mayer van den Bergh, Antwerp (BE), 2013–14, room-filling set-up
Fritz Mayer van den Bergh (1858-1901) amassed a magnificent collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures, as well as numerous objects of applied art. The specially built museum (a patrician house in neo-Gothic style) provides the collection with a distinctive domestic setting, and this is what inspired Sarah Westphal to enter into dialogue with both the art collection and the building. The artist has temporarily taken up residence in the museum: she literally occupies the space with her thoughts and appears in the museum’s ‘salons’, establishing no more than a subtle impression; yet she tidies up, cleans the rooms, dusts off objects, shifts the furniture around, opens cupboards, pulls out drawers, thumbs through photo albums, peruses dance-cards, explores the archives and the attic, changes light bulbs, and dims the lights.
Central to her visit is the concept of Heimsuchen. This German word is a combination of Heim (‘home’) and suchen (‘to look for’). In her efforts to discover and examine the history of the museum, Westphal retraces the traditional vision of the collection. This gives rise to new perspectives that are often unheimlich (uncanny). She thus conceives of the museum as a large house inhabited by artworks, which – as occupants – take on very human traits. By means of meticulous interventions and micro-actions in the rooms, Sarah Westphal breathes new life into the legacy of Fritz Mayer van den Bergh.