What do you collect? Shoes? Photos on your smartphone? Everybody collects something. And museums collect art and heritage. This is what M has in common with its visitors. The exhibition ‘The art of collecting’ focuses on collecting and takes you on a journey through our history and the way it is presented.

One hundred years ago, Victor Vanderkelen, the son of the former mayor Leopold Vanderkelen and his wife Maria Mertens, bequeathed the original home on the museum site to the City of Leuven to found a museum there. But the roots of M go back even further than 1917. ‘From the late 18th century, there was a cabinet of curiosities at the town hall’, Head of Collections Marjan Debaene says. ‘We do not know what it looked like exactly, but we do still have almost all the objects that it contained. To offer our visitors a glimpse of our museum history, M is creating a new cabinet of curiosities with the oldest pieces in our collection.’

From the late 18th century, there was a cabinet of curiosities at the town hall. We don’t know what it looked like exactly, but we do still have all the objects that it contained.

This is the very first M Collection. It contains objects like the wheelbarrow that was used during the ground-breaking of the canal, or the head of a 16th-century giantess, a relic of the city procession that took place every year during Leuven Fair. But it also contains some unique architectural heritage, such as the design for the tower of Saint Peter’s Church on parchment.

After the cabinet of curiosities, we fast forward one hundred years. Circa 1900, you could buy postcards in Leuven of the old municipal museum in the town hall. At that time, the collection was still relatively small, and there was no warehouse. On the postcard, you can see that every centimetre of space is occupied with works of art. M has managed to identify almost every single work on the postcard and is evoking this period of the museum’s history in this exhibition.

In the decades after the donation of the Vanderkelen-Mertens house in 1917, the museum collection grew enormously. This was in part due to the fact that there was finally space for a real museum, but especially also thanks to the efforts and contributions of the first curator, Victor De Munter. He added significantly to the extensive collection that he had inherited from his 19th-century predecessor Edward Van Even. He was a passionate collector of art and heritage, and he donated his entire collection of several thousand artworks to the museum. In this period, the collection was also organized in classical museum displays, which continues today.

By presenting the artworks in different arrangements, we aim to show more than our own history. M also seeks to show its visitors that every form of presentation is a manipulation of your perspective. In the 19th century, the arrangement of the works without any free wall space was completely overwhelming. On the other hand, a carefully considered and selective arrangement pushes your gaze and interpretation in a certain direction. And we are happy to show you how that happens.

Finally, you can get involved yourself. A large touch screen not only provides you with information about the 90 works in the space, but also lets you experiment as a curator yourself. You can select a theme and a period, select works and organize them however you want. You can thus see the changes that occur when you combine different works with one another.

As we mentioned: everybody collects something. M is thus very happy to give a space to today’s collectors. The museum has selected a series of visitors with interesting and varied collections. They take turns presenting their favourite object. In an accompanying film, they explain what the specific objects mean to them, why they started collecting and how their collections differ from the museum’s.

Read our interview with Ides, one of the participating collectors.