After a ten year closure, on Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 September, Antwerp’s Royal Museum of Fine Arts, otherwise known as KMSKA, marks its keenly-awaited grand reopening. Performances and festivities will take place on the museum square all weekend, as part of the Finest Opening Festival.
The award-winning renovations mean that KMSKA now offers two museums in one. Former courtyards have been transformed to add new spaces, while the original 1890 public gallery has been restored. It was no mean feat to put an end to years of fragmentation that saw the collection scattered across seven depots. An original nuclear bunker housing part of the collection had to be broken up with a pneumatic hammer – all 1,350 tonnes of it and 81 tonnes of steel.
The result? A dazzling experience in the new spaces, conceived to be autonomous, with high gloss cast floors and tall white walls an asymmetric contrast to the classical lines, olive greens and antique reds of the original galleries. On the last weekend in September at 10.30 a.m., these beautifully renovated buildings will come to life with celebratory activities, including ballet dancers, a 120-strong choir, a painters’ fair, installations and creative workshops. Everything is free of charge and open to all.
And going forward the museum now benefits from 40% more exhibition space thanks to the infilled courtyards. Its 170,000m3 can house 654 paintings and sculptures. The closure was an opportunity for a thorough review of the collection, which has been reconceived too. Three iconic works have been identified to symbolise the collection. In the historic section, Madonna surrounded by seraphim and cherubim, by Jean Fouquet. Secondly, The Intrigue by James Ensor – a disturbing and modern painting which was a turning point for the Belgian expressionist. And in the post-1880 collection, The Last Day, by Pierre Alechinsky. Each of these works has a central position in the curation.
A highlights tour of 25 paintings has also been put together. It’s an astonishing roll-call, including Flemish masterpieces, as well as Magritte, Rubens, Rodin, Titian, and Modigliani. I’m a particular fan of Cabanel’s Cleopatre, reclining majestically while poisons are tested on death-row prisoners.
After the opening, a year-long temporary exhibition called Cosmorama will be in place and, as a Brusselite who loves all the World Expo’ 1958 memorabilia, I cannot wait to see it. Photographer Ives Maes explores the history of World Fairs and Exhibitions, and their relationship with photography itself – an emerging art form as the World Fair was born.
A Michel Seuphor exhibition will also be running, showing 57 lacunary works donated by his grandchildren. These mesmerising abstracts will be set against the steel blue walls of the Prints Room. Architecture buffs will not want to miss The Making Of, an introspective exhibition where KMSKA lays bare the renovation process that lead to the rebirth of the museum.
Bookworms and those who love a quiet library should also check out the new Reading Room, churchlike with its arched windows and pure Pantheon-like lighting. Its freely accessible for anyone looking for or wanting to request additional information on the collection, or who just want to browse in silence.
Tickets for the museum visit during the Opening Festival are on sale from via kmska.be. Don’t forget to book a time slot for your exploration of the new KMSKA while you’re on the case.
The Finest Opening Festival is made possible thanks to the support of EventFlanders, the city of Antwerp, Wolf Oil and DCA.