ISELP is a platform that fosters interaction between artists, researchers and the public. Its mission is to generate sensory and conceptual experiences through art, with the objective of raising questions on social issues as well as generating knowledge and social links.
Today, the Institute is one of the leading subsidised venues for the advancement of Belgian visual artists. We organise exhibitions, residencies and meetings. This support does not consist of simply exhibiting art; it is also necessary in terms of production, reflection, dissemination of thought and mediation.
We also encourage research in art history in this same vein. ISELP has established itself as a living think tank that pools knowledge and promotes trans-disciplinarity and open-mindedness. We present established research through lectures, courses, publications and podcasts, as well as pushing emerging issues through research residencies and laboratories. We wish to support a wide variety of discourses on the relationship between art and contemporary society, as well as the broadest possible understanding of contemporary art.
The open approach that led to the creation of the Institute still serves as a model for us today. It is about collectively creating and defending a vision of art that makes sense in the world around us. Art exists only as an object of society, as a communal entity, however intimate it may be perceived. In this sense, we wish to become a place in the heart of society.
ISELP was established in 1971 out of the need to create a place in Brussels dedicated to new artistic practices, a venue where the public, from all diverse backgrounds, could access the new language of the arts through talks, meetings, seminars and a stimulating and engaging educational approach.
Recognising that there was no specific centre in Brussels devoted to emerging creations and the links between the arts and society, the art historian Gita Brys-Schatan founded the Institute in 1971. During the first few years, ISELP – Institut Supérieur Pour l’Etude du Langage Plastique – organised its first seminars in various locations, prioritising dialogue and exchanges between artists, audiences and art historians. The first exhibition, Art et ordinateur, was organised in 1974 and was hosted in the buildings of Forest National, the concert hall was also established in 1971.
Thanks to the support of the French Commission for Culture of the Brussels Agglomeration, ISELP moved into the former stables of Egmont Palace, next to Egmont Park in 1975, a complex classified as a heritage site by the Royal Commission for Monuments and Sites. From that point on, exhibitions of all interpretations of plastic language (vinyl pockets, graffiti, comics, children’s books, artist prints, etc.) were presented, despite the small size of these premises that were primarily used to host classes. Perhaps the most notable is Néon, Fluor et Cie, organised in both the building and the park, in 1984. This exhibition, like several others, reflects the Institute’s strong interest in matters of art in the public arena. A think tank named Environmental dedicated itself to this theme; it created a magazine of the same name published from 1989 to 1999.
As a result of an extension of the premises in 1999, ISELP welcomed the new millennium with an expansion of its activities. In addition to exhibitions and courses, additional activities have been developed over time: A Film Festival on Art, international symposiums, artistic integration awards, artistic and scientific residencies, etc. From that point on, the Institute set out its intention to organise several exhibitions per year, showcasing the diversity of the emerging scene. In the early years, monographic exhibitions by Michel Mouffe, Johan Muyle, Bob Verschueren, etc. alternated with thematic exhibitions.
In 2011, a final phase of renovation of the site enabled ISELP to expand over the two wings of the stables, and to host the most complete documentation centre of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation.
Currently, ISELP is developing a range of activities that are intended to fuel debate and research. More than ever, the Institute focuses on the place of art in contemporary society by bringing together artists, researchers and the public.
ISELP occupies the former stables of the Egmont Palace. Spread out on either side of the Milan Passage, the buildings form part of a site that is rounded off by the Egmont Palace and the Egmont Park.
In the middle of the 16th century, Françoise de Luxembourg, widow of Count Jean d’Egmont, acquired two hotels located between the Sablon and the city walls. Between the two buildings runs a street that connects the ramparts to the Sablon: the countess also bought it to unify the domain, under the condition that a right of way be granted to the townspeople. Gradually, she completed her estate through the purchase of other plots.
After her son, Lamoral d’Egmont, governor of Flanders and Artois, was sentenced to death during the Dutch Revolt, the family abandoned the estate and rented it out to various noblemen. The Arenberg family acquired the site in 1752. The two hotels were then united under the name of Palais d’Arenberg. Several architects worked successively on its harmonisation and development.
In 1823, the City built the boulevard of Waterloo on the traces of the second compound, which forms the boundary of the site to the south-east. The d’Arenberg family acquired the Passage de Milan in the wake of this, which gave them direct access to the boulevard from their palace. To this day, the origin of the name of this passage is unknown.
Between 1830 and 1837, the Egmont Palace was renovated according to the plans drawn up by the neo-classical architect Tilman François Suys. He created a riding school and built new stables on both sides of the Milan passage. They complement the old stables by accommodating horses, vehicles, the kitchen of the stable-grooms, as well as two servant dwellings.
At the end of the First World War, the d’Arenberg family left Belgium. The palace was sold to the City, which successively lent it out to a number of organisations. As such, the old stables were converted into ULB student accommodation, the riding school into a festival hall, etc. In 1958, there were some thirty tenants in the palace, which has deteriorated considerably. In this context, the new stables successively housed a depot for the City’s public monuments, dance, theatre and fencing workshops.
In 1931, the area that is our concern now, was transformed into an electrical substation. From this occupation dates the emblematic travelling bridge of the great hall, supported by a succession of reinforced concrete gantries that give rhythm to the space. The overhead crane, still in place today, bears the nameplate of the Société métallurgique Saint Eloi, in Enghien, a foundry specialising in carpentry and bridges, which at that time also created the structure of the Citroën garage, now Kanal -Pompidou Centre.
Finally, in 1954, a part of the space (the present-day auditorium and a part of the main hall) was granted to the sculptor Georges Dobbels, who used it as his studio.
In 1964, the City of Brussels sold the Egmont Palace to the Belgian State, which used it as a prestigious venue for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The City retains ownership of the park, the houses in rue aux Laines and boulevard de Waterloo, as well as the passage de Milan and the stables, which continue to be occupied by the sculptor Dobbels and the electrical substation.
In 1975, Gita Brys-Schatan, who founded ISELP in 1971, obtained permission to move the Institute into the main wing of the Milan passage. On that occasion, the rooms were renovated under the guidance of the French Commission of Culture within the scope of the European Year of Architectural Heritage. The two architects, Daniel Lelubre and Brigitte Libois, created a multi-purpose room of 100 m2, which expanded the Dobbels studio, and organised the administrative premises on the palace side. On the boulevard de Waterloo side, a store-front showroom of the Institute can be used for small receptions.
This reorganisation was followed by two more important phases of expansion, both of which were supervised by Daniel Lelubre and Brigitte Libois. In 1999, the left wing, the largest one, was entirely dedicated to ISELP, with the main entrance situated on the boulevard de Waterloo. The exhibition room, now expanded and complemented by a mezzanine, is adjacent to the reception/restaurant and a conference room (on the site of the sculptor’s former studio). For this occasion, the American artist Joseph Kosuth, a major force in conceptual art, produced the work Map with 13 points, compiling thirteen art-related quotes on the windows of the left wing of the Institute. In 2011, on the 40th anniversary of the institute, the right wing of the passage de Milan was granted to ISELP, which then established an important Documentation Centre grouping together various higher education libraries (in particular that of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation).
On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Institute, the multidisciplinary team Denicolai & Provoost * Nord * OSP revamped the reception area of the Institute, and relocated its entrance to the passage of Milan. This new reception area will be completed in 2022.