In January of 1924, the French industrialist and car designer André Citröen opened in Brussels the first Citröen branch outside of France. A factory on Rue St. Denis, in Forest, was built in 1926, and a few years later, in 1933, the plans for a large showroom and auto-repair shop were drawn after the original sketches made by Citroën himself. In an area of 16.500 m² a monumental structure of steel and glass was erected in 1934 overlooking the Willebroek Canal and Yser Square. The building reflected the modernist concerns of the inter-war period, with its functionalists elements, a large showroom with high ceilings and expansive dimensions. It is in this magnificent locale, with its large windowpanes reflecting the daily life in Brussels, that the new Kanal – Centre Pompidou will have its home.
“We want to expand the definition of what a museum is,” said Yves Goldstein, Chief of Mission at the Kanal Foundation. “We want to make this a real cultural city within a city, which will have lots of space where people can come to experience modern art and architecture, but also to simply enjoy themselves in this magnificent space. We want to bring people together.”
Through the Urban Planning Company (Société d’Aménagement Urbain), the Brussels Region bought the property in 2015, and created the Kanal Foundation to oversee all the activities necessary to make the Kanal – Centre Pompidou a reality. One of the fundamental goals set forth by the Kanal Foundation was to create a home for a Museum of Architecture, as well as a Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art. The former already exists in Brussels, the CIVA Foundation, which will be relocating from Ixelles in the coming years. As for the latter, such a museum does not currently exist in Brussels.
“That’s why we have entered a partnership with the Centre Pompidou,” said Goldstein. “We can benefit from their expertise and know-how to create a Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, and they can help us with the exhibitions as well because right now we don’t have a collection. It’s a brand new museum and as you can understand, we still need to do a lot of things, which includes building up our collection.”
The Kanal – Centre Pompidou will welcome visitors in the existing building during the period of May 2018 until June 2019, after which the conversion works will start until the end of 2022. The transformation aims at keeping the original main structure, its unique atmosphere, but reshape the interior to suit the needs of a XXI century cultural center. Between now and June 2019, ten young and upcoming Belgian artists were commissioned to produce work for the museum’s collection. “We are already exhibiting seven of them, and the other three will follow soon. You should come check it out before June of next year. It’s really worth it.”
At the end of the ten-year partnership, the Kanal Foundation expects to have achieved the full transformation of the original Citröen showroom and workshops into a one of a kind cultural center. “We want to maintain the spirit and general structure of this fantastic building. But it is true that we need to transform it to have the kind of facilities that we need to make this one of the best museums in Europe, and why not, in the world.”