Historic Triennials in the 1960s and 70s
Bruges has charmed visitors since the 19th century with its historical heritage, picturesque image and numerous art treasures from the past. But after the Second World War, an exciting period for visual arts began in Bruges. In the 1950s, a few passionate art lovers thought it was time to pay more attention to contemporary art. They got together to form the group ‘Raaklijn’ and until the early 1960s organised concerts, lectures, debates and exhibitions in an attempt to put Bruges on the map of contemporary art.
In 1966, the city itself then took the initiative by organising ‘Bryggium’, a major exhibition of modern and contemporary art, in the halls of the Belfry. Two years later came Bruges' big breakthrough as a contemporary art city. The city's then Burgomaster, Pierre Vandamme, announced the first ‘Triennial for Plastic Art in Belgium’. This summer event was held in the City Halls. The basic idea behind this three-yearly event was to provide an overview of the contemporary Belgian art scene and to challenge the artists to demonstrate how contemporary art can be a part of a historic city. According to the exhibition catalogue, the approach is always rigorous, honest and critical.
That is how the Bruges Triennial was born. The first triennials in 1968, 1971 and 1974 were a success, but the event was sadly not repeated after that. The will to make contemporary art accessible to a wider audience was certainly there, but for political and budgetary reasons, it couldn't be acted upon immediately. So for a long time, 1974 remained the most recent year when the Triennial Bruges had been held. Fast forward to 2015, however, and the Triennial was back!
Since then, art and architecture by national and international participants have gone hand in hand. In the new series of triennials, Bruges plays an even more leading role, as the themes are chosen to reflect what is happening in the city today. The artistic and architectural interventions are mainly exhibited outdoors and give rise to a dialogue with the urban environment. In a very approachable way, they invite locals and visitors alike to look at the city through a different lens. Holding the event in this way has enabled Bruges to finally shake off its image as a medieval outdoor museum.