Founded in 1977, the Sart-Tilman Open-air Museum is the result of an initial collaboration between the University of Liège and the Ministry of Culture, followed by the French Community of Belgium. The museum elaborated a conservation and investigation policy which led to the development of a collection that currently includes more than 110 pieces, representative of the history of modern open-air sculpture in French-speaking Belgium over the past forty years.
The desire to create an open-air museum at Sart-Tilman began with the first planning projects for the site. In 1961, the architect André Jacqmain had already come up with the idea, and as from 1965, Claude Strebelle firmly encouraged the collaboration between architect and visual artist. He worked with Pierre Culot to create the “Mur de pierre d'âge viséen”, in front of the great lecture theatres, inaugurated in 1967 in conjunction with the first buildings of the new campus.
Several sculptures, such as the “Grand Aigle des Conquêtes” by Francis André, “La vie des abeilles” by Jean-Paul Laenen or “Composition monumentale” by Léon Wuidar were installed before the creation of the Open-air Museum.
As regards the integration of works at Sart-Tilman, an alternative is proposed that allows the works to be distributed depending on whether or not they were designed according to the site. The first condition for integration is the most restrictive: the artist must make his/her design according to the setting. It is also the most fruitful; the work assumes a multiplicity of meanings and functions in relation to the space. The six links installed around the Place du Rectorat, acting as signs for the passages linking this square to the surrounding buildings, are a good illustration of this approach.
The museum’s collections also include works that were not specifically designed according to the site. Such is the case for “Souvenir” and “L'aigle” by André Willequet, “Relâche” by Paul Machiels, “Niobé” and “La Caille” by George Grard, “Pâtre” by Idel Ianchelevici, “L'endormie n°5” by Olivier Strebelle and many others too. The approach, which is common in terms of public art, is risky: at Sart-Tilman, the impressive natural and architectural environment can crush a work that has not taken into consideration a study of the site during its elaboration. One of the most successful works to be integrated "afterwards" is that of the “Jeune fille agenouillée” (young woman kneeling) by Charles Leplae, close to the "Marre aux Chevreuils"; the tenderness and intimacy of the dialogue that this gracious image of a woman establishes with nature, make it one of the most attractive pieces in the collection.