Eleven years have passed, believe it or not, since the KMSKA Royal Museum of Fine Arts in Antwerp closed its doors for a general renovation and expansion. It’s Saturday time: Historic Mansion will reopen with a festive weekend – as a double house. After years of wandering, some of which also led to Vienna, Flemish masters found a home again. And they have new, younger roommates.
In the context of the €100 million project, the exhibition space has been expanded by 40 per cent to 21,000 square metres, with the KAAN Architecten office placing white cubes in the building’s former inner courtyards. Who needs a smoking yard these days? While works up to 1880 can be found in the historic old building, artwork created thereafter can be experienced in the new White Room.
In the connecting pavilion between the two buildings, which are essentially independent, is the work of Belgian James Ensor, of which KMSKA has the world’s largest collection. In total, the institution owns about 8,400 works from the early 14th century, about 640 of which are on permanent display.
The show takes a back seat and allows the artwork to breathe. Sometimes there are only a few of them in the huge halls, which were originally decorated in red and dark green and whose stucco is now gilded. Only one hall was filled in the style of fin-de-siècle salons in Saint Petersburg to give the impression of wandering.
The new building, which is predominantly white, is completely different and unforgettable, with only the carved part clad in a dimly lit dark building. Mirrored floors, light fixtures in the stairs, and views across the floors provide a great setting for the new champions.
By the way, the division into new and old art is not entirely sacred, since some of the new works have strayed into the old building and vice versa. The primary focus is on revealing connected lines, which is why Albrecht Potts’ “Man of Pain” can be found next to James Ensor, created centuries later, or the sculpture of the same name by Berlind de Bruycker.
The design of the exhibition was not left to chance, but in part left to visitors. “We designed the museum not only for our visitors, but also for our visitors,” Director Carmen Willems emphasized in Thursday’s presentation. Thus, 100 were selected from the 4,700 applicants who formed a focus group titled “Top Hundred” which evaluated and led the overall design.
This tangible approach to neo-mediation can be seen, for example, in the animals and large-scale skulls of the paintings in the hall, which were realistically reproduced and served as a tactile experience for children. The audio installation titled Radio Bart invites adults into a virtual dialogue with a blind person about the artwork, which probably also applies to the audio guide, where today’s prostitutes contemplate a painting of a 17th-century brothel. The film “Christ Surrounded by Angels Who Make Music” by Hans Memling is surrounded by 15th-century music on facsimile reproductions reworked according to the original image.
Apart from the new mediation channels, the new beginning is also used in KMSKA to come to terms with the colonial past of the groups, for which a larger symposium is scheduled for 2024. However, a provisional preliminary result is already available: according to the current situation, 3.3 may have been paid in cent of the work given to the house with money from colonial income.
In any case, KMSKA President Luk Lemmens was perfectly happy with the restart: “We are now a museum on a par with European museums like the Rijksmuseum or the Prado.” The 100 million euros that had to be invested for this purpose did not deter Flemish Prime Minister Jan Jambon in his salutation: “Compared to other museum projects abroad, this is a very cost-effective one.” and successful.
(Service – https://kmska.be/en)
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