Antwerp’s KMSKA reopens this weekend after 11 years of renovation
Construction works have finished, the garden has been remodelled and the collection has been returned. After 11 years of renovation, the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (known as the Koninklijk Museum voor Schone Kunsten Antwerpen or KMSKA in Dutch) is ready for its grand reopening on September 24th.
Construction was originally planned to end in 2017. However, several structural and problems were found that had to be addressed. The renovation included asbestos abatement and the demolition of a vault and nuclear bunker. The project was funded by the government of Flanders, which paid a total of 100 million euros, and various private partners.
In 2021, KAAN Architecten, the firm responsible for the renovation, won a European Award for Architectural Heritage Intervention for its work on the museum. "It was important for us to respect KMSKA's historical heritage and expand in a sustainable way," reacted KAAN co-founder Dikkie Scipio. "We are therefore overjoyed that our hard work and the quality of this project out of almost 300 strong candidates has been recognised."
But the KMSKA has not only been renovated, it has also been expanded. KAAN Architecten decided to add an entirely new building to the museum in the patio, which the bureau describes as “an artful Lego block within a 19th century-shell”. This way 40% extra exhibition space was added without altering the appearance of the building itself. To highlight the contrast with the main building, each of the 10 new galleries was finished in white and given a unique height, volume and lighting.
There is a reason why art enthusiasts from Flanders and beyond are looking forward to this event. The KMSKA is not only the biggest, but also the most important museum operated by the Flemish Community, and houses over 13.000 paintings, drawings and sculptures.
The permanent collection mainly focuses on Flemish paintings from the 16th and 17th century, known as the Golden Age of Flanders. The works of Pieter Paul Rubens are one of the highlights. The painter, one of Antwerp’s most famous citizens, is well known for his grand depictions of mythological and Christian subjects. An entire exhibition room is dedicated to Rubens in the new museum.
Paintings of other well known Flemish painters are also displayed, such as Bruegel, van Dyck and Jordaens and Van Eyck. A separate space for the works of Ensor is a new addition to the renovated museum. The painter from Oostende was an important figure in the expressionism and surrealism movements during the late 19th and early 20th century.
Foreign artists are of course not ignored. Art enthusiasts will recognise the works of Titian, Rembrandt, Rodin, Degas, Modigliani, Cabanel, Memling, Fouquet and Van Gogh while walking through the halls of the museum. Works of art will not be exhibited chronologically, but rather thematically.
"It was a difficult last year and these are obviously not obvious times," said the minister-president of Flanders Jan Jambon at the preview of the museum. "But nowhere do Flemish masters feel more at home than here. The KMSKA should once again play an exemplary role for the entire museum sector. It is a top museum, scientific institution and restoration studio. The reopening is the cultural highlight of this government period."
In celebration of the reopening, a free festival will be held on the 24th and the 25th of September A variety of artists will perform during the weekend, such as The Antwerp Symphony Orchestra and the Royal Ballet School of Antwerp, who will perform in front of the building. The Soulwax-duo David and Stephen Dewaele will make their only Belgian appearance in 2022 as 2ManyDJs.
Tickets for the museum can be reserved on the KMSKA website. General admission costs 20 euros and offers access to both the permanent and temporary exhibitions.
© BELGA PHOTO JONAS ROOSENS