Athena returns to the roof of the Royal Athenaeum, but with a contemporary update (Antwerp)
Let’s first go back in time… At the beginning of the 19th century, Napoleon founded a secondary schoole, the first public school in what is now Belgium and now known as GO! Royal Athenaeum. In the following years, the institute was installed in various places in the historic center, until then mayor Leopold De Wael decided in 1872 that it deserved a modern building on the Gemeenteplaats, popularly known as Geuzenhofkes. We now know the square as Franklin Rooseveltplaats.
Twelve years later, the monumental new athenaeum – a design by municipal architect Pieter Dens – was inaugurated there. A statue of Pallas Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom, art and science, has been placed on the roof. Known to the Romans as Minerva.
“The work was created by Joseph Ducaju, who also designed the statue of David Teniers”, explains Karin Heremans, director of the athenaeum. “It fits perfectly with the eclectic style of the building and also conveys the humanist message that the athénée wants to convey to the inhabitants of the city. This is also reflected elsewhere on our facades, with allegorical statues of the muses of art and science above the main door.
In 1994, the athenaeum was classified as a protected monument, but this did not stop the disaster, because on the night of January 14 to 15, 2003, the building was devastated by a serious fire. Extinguishing work lasted until the following day.
After measuring the damage, it turned out that not only the main building on the Rooseveltplaats and the banquet hall had been practically destroyed. The statue of Athena that stood so proudly on the roof all those years also had to be removed. Karin Heremans: “The statue was no longer in good condition. Earlier a torch fell from his hand and later a piece of his arm followed.
Soon there will be a new statue of Athena on the roof. “A jury of experts made up of Luc Tuymans and Claudia Celen, representative of the student council, selected three artists from a long list. They were asked to prepare a concrete proposal for this contemporary work. “Our new Athena wants to engage in a dialogue on freedom, tolerance and reciprocity with the neighborhood. Art and science are of all times, but the goddess of wisdom also represents emancipation, humanism, freedom and universally shared values, which are very important in this diverse society.
Statue or projection
The three finalists were selected in June, but what the final result will look like is not yet known. “Each artist must give it a new meaning. It can be a statue of a male, a female, or a hybrid. Or maybe a projection? It will also be a surprise for me.
The winner then has one year to complete their design. “It would of course be great if we could inaugurate the works in January 2024.”
The winner will be announced on Saturday January 14, twenty years after the fire. On this day, “Athena takes over” will also be organized in the atheneum, a collaboration between the atheneum, well-known artists and Instroom Vlaanderen, a project by and with culinary talented newcomers, with chef Seppe Nobels as showcase. So don’t miss a dinner.
What finally happens to the “old” Athena? Karin Heremans: “It is currently in our basement, but it will later be given a prominent place in a gazebo on the playground.
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