Bozar said on Wednesday that she had died on May 29 of an illness. The Brussels Times later reported that she had been battling breast cancer, and that she had continued to lead the museum during her final days.
Lauwers had gained a strong reputation within the Belgian art scene for her work at Bozar, where she spent a total of 20 years in a variety of positions. She had been head of the exhibitions department before becoming director-general and CEO last year.
In her application for the top job, which the Bozar shared in its statement on her passing, Lauwers wrote, “The Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels is the institution that transformed me. It taught me to deal with complexity, to anchor beliefs in a constantly changing world, and to remain efficient in changing circumstances by increasing my adaptability. … I also learned to move forward collectively and to see the importance of nuance in a world where consensus cannot be taken for granted and where diversity is a strength, despite all the friction it can sometimes cause.”
Bozar, an interdisciplinary arts institution that mounts temporary exhibitions and is also home to the National Orchestra of Belgium, is one of the top museums in Belgium, welcoming 1 million visitors per year, according to statistics from the institution.
At the museum, Lauwers demonstrated an ability to organize blockbuster shows that brought large crowds through Bozar’s doors. In 2019, she organized a Keith Haring retrospective that also appeared Tate Liverpool and the Museum Folkwang in Essen. Some 180,000 people reportedly saw the show, making it the most-visited exhibition ever staged at Bozar.
Other major exhibitions by Lauwers focused on David Hockney and Michael Börremans.
Bozar said in its release about Lauwers’s death that the museum would for now be led by its executive committee and its board of directors.
“Bozar has lost an experienced leader and an inspiring colleague,” the museum wrote. “Sophie continued to work for our house until the very end. We will remember her refined personality, and as someone who lived life with passion and great humour. She drew strength from beauty and art, a strength she radiated with a smile.”