The Contemporary Art Museum Association was created on 8 November 1957 at the instigation of Karel Geirlandt. The idea was to develop an independent museum that would act as a showcase for contemporary trends in the world of art. It was perceived that the Museum of Fine Arts was out of touch with current artistic trends. The older art historical model needed to be invested with a less rigid structure so as to be more closely in tune with contemporary artistic activities.
At the time, the Museum of Fine Arts continued to buy major works for the collection but key opportunities were unfortunately missed because officials were not attentive enough to the contemporary scene. Consequently, Geirlandt’s aim was similar to that of Fernand Scribe, when he decided to create the 'Les Amis du Musée' (Friends of the Museum) in 1897. He joined forces with his friends in seeking to upgrade the Museum of Fine Arts and bring it more into line with international artistic developments.
The Association also bought numerous works with an eye to the future. From its inception, the Association became eagerly involved in staging debates and conferences designed to let the general public know more about the latest trends, attitudes and movements. The Association has been involved in organising artistic visits with a view to broadening horizons and issuing booklets and pamphlets to act as records of the various activities.
When the Museum voor Hedendaagse Kunst was set up in 1975 it was the first Belgian museum devoted to contemporary art. It was housed in the Museum of Fine Arts. Jan Hoet was appointed as director of the new Museum that very same year. He was instrumental in systematically extending the collection owned by the Museum and helping it to earn an enviable international reputation.
The Museum’s provisional circumstances meant that opportunities for seeing the collection were restricted to temporary exhibitions, with the works being showcased on a variable and piecemeal basis.
It took 20 years for Jan Hoet and his Museum to be granted independent premises in which to house the collection of contemporary art.
Fresh momentum was given in 1996 with the opening of the 'Rode Poort', which was the inaugural exhibition for the Museum in its new but temporary premises. The definitive Museum was due to be opened in late 1998 when it would be moved into refurbished premises of what used to be a casino.
Renamed S.M.A.K. (Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst) the Museum doors were thrown open to the public on 7 May 1999 where visitors were treated to an ambitious exhibition.
Located opposite the Museum of Fine Arts the two museums now form an artistic haven in a city park located on the outskirts of Ghent.