Start of project
December 2019

The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, KU Leuven and its MDRN research lab and Université Libre de Bruxelles officially kicked off the project collaboration on BePAPER, funded by BELSPO, the Belgian Science Policy.

First day
September 2020

The project’s staff members started their first day at the museum. Laura Kollwelter works on cataloguing the corpus and organising outreach activities. As the doctoral student of the project, Sarah Eycken starts her research in preparation of writing her thesis. Ana Schultze focuses on digital development in the role of information specialist.

Online communication
2020 – 2024

During the first two years of the project, the team regularly shared contributions to the RMFAB Instagram page, tagged #bepaperproject. These posts introduced the BePAPER project and its corpus to a broad audience through storytelling, focusing on avant-garde artists and their artworks as well as some specific materials and techniques used on paper.

In late 2020, the team held a cadavre exquis contest inspired by surrealist works. Members of the RMFAB online community were invited to participate by posting their own drawing of an exquisite corpse. Among the responses were some lovely contributions (among which the drawings of schoolchildren and adults alike), which were then featured on the RMFAB Instagram page.

In January 2022, this website www.bepaper.be was published, aiming to enhance the online visibility of the BePAPER project and communicate about the upcoming symposium.

BePAPER Symposium
March 2022

The RMFAB, in collaboration with KUL and ULB, hosted an international symposium on the role of paper in European avant-garde art during the first half of the 20th century, titled “Avant-Garde Art on Paper in Europe, 1905-1950″.

Description of the conference

A wide variety of historical or classic avant-garde artists turned to paper during the first half of the 20th century. Whereas this turn to paper has received quite some attention in the study of Cubism (collage), Expressionism (woodcut), and Dada (photomontage), to date we lack a proper understanding of the many ways in which avant-gardists employed paper and to what aims. This colloquium aimed to tackle this issue by revisiting, and perhaps revising our view of, more canonised movements and by broadening the geographical scope that comes to include avant-garde movements, works and practices from the North, South, Centre and East of Europe.

Conference folder / Video recordings

June 2022

Sarah Eycken and Ana Schultze represented BePAPER on June 19th of 2022 with their talk “Paper Projects at the RMFAB” at a network gathering of Belgian prints- and drawing cabinets. Past editions of this event have taken place at Museum Plantin-Moretus and Musea Brugge, and this third edition was hosted by KBR.

The network, mostly consisting of curators, biannually takes the opportunity to discuss the conservation, development and valorisation of collections of graphic works on paper. Sarah and Ana raised the subjects of antedating avant-garde works as well as data-driven storytelling.

Presentations & publications
2022 – 2024

Sarah Eycken presented papers at three conferences:

  • 24 March 2022. “Monochrome Harmony: Black-and-White Compositions on Paper in Belgian Constructivist Art” at the symposium Avant-Garde Art on Paper in Europe, 1905-1950, RMFAB, Brussels.
  • 16 August 2022. “Colour Samples: The Use of Coloured Paper in Belgian Avant-Garde Circles after 1917” at the 36th International Paper Historians Conference, Donau Universität, Krems.
  • 22 September 2023. “Een wit blad? Papier als een grensverleggend medium in de Belgische avant-garde (1917-1950)” at the emeritus conference of Prof. De Ruiter, Rijksuniversiteit Groningen.

And wrote three publications:

  • “Het Overzicht – De Driehoek – Variétés. Het tijdschrift als papieren tentoonstellingsruimte voor de Belgische avant-garde in het interbellum.” Tijd-Schrift. Heemkunde en lokaal-erfgoedpraktijk in Vlaanderen12, 2 (2023): 62-79.
  • “Colour Samples: The Use of Coloured Paper in Belgian Avant-Garde Circles After 1917.” In Artists’ Paper: A Case in Paper History, edited by Patricia Engel et al., 164-192. Horn: Verlag Berger, 2023.
  • “Monochrome Harmony: Black-and-White Work on Paper in Belgian Constructivism.” In Historic Avant-Garde Work on Paper, edited by Sascha Bru and Laura Kollwelter, Routledge Research in Art History, 109-126. New York: Routledge, 2024.

May 2023

On May 11th of 2023, Ana Schultze held a guest lecture about museum collections and the digital transformation together with Roberta Pireddu. The lecture took place within the framework of the Digital Cultural Heritage course taught by Bruno Vandermeulen and Fred Truyen at KU Leuven, in which students of the masters programs in Cultural Studies and Digital Humanities are present.

Ana invited the students to participate in discussions regarding good practices and strategic improvements in digital collections management. They focused on analysing a wide spectrum of parameters: from metadata quality, linked data standards, reusability and intellectual property rights, to user friendliness, etc.

Brussels Drawing Week
October 2023

In collaboration with colleagues Lise Vandewal and Marie-Noëlle Grison from the FRIABLE research project, the BePAPER team joined the 2023 edition of the Brussels Drawing Week with two activities.

On October 3rd, the team hosted a workshop in which the participants were invited to take an exclusive look behind the scenes in the prints and drawings room and the conservation studio of the RMFAB. We started out by looking at a selection of modern drawings, prints and collages, with a focus on the technical specifics of preserving and researching works of art on paper in a museum context through various methods. The visitors then had the opportunity to explore the various artistic possibilities of paper, and were also able to try out microscopic examination and UV analysis.

Later that week, on October 6th, the researchers presented their talk “Traces of Traveling Art” during the Talks Talks Talks sessions of the Art on Paper Fair at Gare Maritime. They underlined two ways to experience art on paper: through the travelling object (drawn original artwork) and the travelling image (a reproduced print or photograph). Lise Vandewal explored the travels of drawings between artists’s studios, museum and private collections, exhibitions and art fairs. Laura Kollwelter analysed the historical context behind the large circulation of works on paper and how they supported the creation of international networks. She discussed Belgian avant-garde artists such as Marthe Donas, Jozef Peeters and Victor Servranckx and the dissemination of reproduced images through magazines, postcards and portfolios.

March 2024

In March 2024, we were proud to announce the publication of our book, titled “Historic Avant-Garde Work on Paper,” as a part of the Routledge Research in Art History series. It is edited by Sascha Bru with the editorial assistance of Laura Kollwelter.

Book description

With its many collages and photomontages, the historic avant-garde is generally considered to have transformed paper from a mere support into an artistic medium and to have assisted in art on paper gaining a firm autonomy. Bringing together an international team of scholars, this book shows that the story of paper in the avant-garde has thereby hardly been told. The first section looks at a selection of canonized individual avant-gardists’ work on paper to demonstrate that the material and formal analysis of paper in the avant-garde’s artistic production still holds much in store. In the second section, chapters zoom in on forms and formats of collective artistic production that deployed paper to move around reproductions of fine art works, to facilitate the dialogue between avant-gardists, to better promote their work among patrons, and to make their work available to a wider audience. Chapters in the third section lay bare how certain groups within the avant-garde began to massively create monochrome works, because these could be easily reproduced when transferred to, or reproduced as, linocuts. In the last section of the book, chapters explore how the avant-garde’s attentiveness to paper almost always also implied a critique of the ways in which paper, and all that it stood for, was treated and labored in European culture and society more broadly.

This book examines the many functions of paper in the fine art and aesthetics of the early twentieth-century modernist or historic avant-garde (Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Constructivism and many more). It will be of interest to scholars working in art history, modernism, and design.

The hardback and ebook are available for orders on the Routledge website.

expected in
December 2024

A second book, which will highlight the collection of modern art on paper of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium, is currently in the making. Through the lens of avant-garde and modern works produced in Belgium between 1918 and 1950, it explores the many ways paper can be used in an artistic practice.

The publication is composed as a catalogue and will include an overview of the history of this rich collection, as well as chapters on topics such as modernity, collage, abstraction, color, sketches and studies, applied arts and network. It will include about 100 high quality reproductions of artworks, about half of which accompanied by a note. Contributions are being written by the researchers attached to the BePAPER (Laura Kollwelter, Sarah Eycken and Inga Rossi-Schrimpf) as well as Sarah Van Ooteghem, curator of the RMFAB-collection of modern art on paper.