On 24 September, the renovated Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp (KMSKA) will swing open its doors. After 11 years of construction and renovation, it will once again welcome the public. With an iconic building, a world-class collection, a dynamic presentation and bold programming, the new KMSKA is all set.
For 11 years, the KMSKA was closed to the public. During that time, the historic building was renovated and a new pure white volume was added. The new addition is an infill in the historic patios. This creates 40% additional exhibition space. Dikkie Scipio of KAAN Architecten created two worlds in one building. Even before its opening, the museum as a building was already winning awards.
Luk Lemmens, chairman KMSKA vzw: “The KMSKA is extremely pleased with this new infrastructure that offers many opportunities. In the future, however, we continue to face considerable financial challenges. In recent years, we have often considered the business model together with the board of directors. We have international ambitions. And ambitions cost money. The government is in a difficult position, and we understand that. By positioning ourselves as true cultural entrepreneurs, we have found a lot of support from businesses. KMSKA is the first cultural institution in Flanders to achieve such a good result in this.”
With 8,400 pieces, the KMSKA’s collection is the largest and most valuable in Flanders. The collection is the result of the eclectic tastes of collectors and directors from different eras. The oldest work dates from the early 14th century. While the KMSKA owns art mainly from Belgium and the Southern Netherlands, it also has a good number of international masterpieces of exceptional quality.
The KMSKA’s baseline is ‘The Finest Feeling’. It sets the tone. The focus is no longer just on gaining knowledge, but even more on experiences. The KMSKA wants to give every visitor a feeling that resonates far beyond the museum walls.
An open house
The new museum aims to be a place of encounter where everyone feels welcome. The threshold of the new museum was also literally brought down to ground level, where we created an additional entrance. The museum is strongly committed to inclusion and participation. All facets of its operation and programming show that multivoicedness has been thoroughly considered.
Carmen Willems, general director: “We have firmly chosen to present the collection within two major periods. We show the old masters in the historic part and the moderns in the new volume. At the pivotal point is situated the artist James Ensor. We have the largest collection of Ensor in the world. He will be allocated an entire wing.”
Luk Lemmens, chairman KMSKA vzw: “The KMSKA is too often still only associated with old masters. Thanks to the space gained, our fantastic collection of modern art gets the place it deserves. Moreover, we can now display works by James Ensor and Antwerp artist Rik Wouters. We also possess the largest collection of Wouters worldwide.”
“You can see this in everything, whether it is the hall texts or object labels, the partners the KMSKA works with, the choice of Artists in Residence or the composition of the team. During its beauty sleep, the museum gradually acquired a new DNA. We are proud of that because such a process does not happen by itself,” says Willems.
Carmen Willems: “It was a challenging and delicate balancing act. Bold choices were made. We had some important focal points in our approach: we want to invite visitors to look differently and see more. We do this by, among other things, showing artworks in an unconventional way, but also with the Radio Bart project, with Christophe Coppens’ The Ten, and by adding performances by our Artists in Residence.”
Minister President Jan Jambon: “The opening of KMSKA is the cultural highlight of 2022. Museums are important in a society. They are not only the living memory of generations past, they are also places that respond to developments in society. Museums are at the very summit as beacons of confidence and hope. In these uncertain times, they have an increasingly significant role to play. The KMSKA houses the largest art collection in Flanders. At last, after a long world tour, our Flemish Masters are back home!”
“In recent years, the Flemish government has invested over 100 million euros in the restoration and expansion of the KMSKA. In return, we get no less than 21,000m² of museum space. Compared to similar museum construction projects abroad, this is a cheap project. However, 100 million euros is still a lot of money. I fully support my and my predecessors’ decision to continue investing in this building, in this place, and in this collection,” says Jan Jambon.
“For me, it is important that a museum is committed to experience. In this respect, the KMSKA team has done an incredible job. I would therefore like to invite everyone to immerse themselves in the wonderful world of the KMSKA,” chairman Lemmens adds.
Jan Jambon concludes: “Together with the city and EventFlanders, we are organizing a free opening festival on 24 and 25 September for our neighbors, the people of Antwerp, and all visitors. Come and experience it together with us.”
On Saturday 24 and Sunday 25 September, the KMSKA will celebrate its reopening with an artistic festival. Performances and festivities will take place on the museum square. The beautifully renovated museum galleries will be bustling with celebratory activities. Because celebrating is art too.
The Finest Feeling
The KMSKA has been looking forward to this moment for over ten years. The moment when the doors of the renovated museum swing open once again. On Saturday 24 September at 10.30 a.m. the time has come. Bells and trumpets will start off the opening festival. An opening ceremony with ballet dancers and a 120-strong choir will culminate in a festive climax. That is The Finest Feeling.
Outside of the museum…
This officially marks the start of the Finest Opening Festival, a free festival on the museum square, which will run for two days. What is on the program? Two full days of colourful entertainment, festivities and with a painters’ fair around the museum. There will be surprising performances. By KMSKA Artists in Residence, among others. All activities and festivities outside the museum walls are free of charge and open to everyone.
… and within the museum walls
Within the museum building, too, music will resound. There will be inspiring crossovers, installations, and exhibitions. Children and their families can participate in creative workshops. Of course, the stars of the day are the presentation of the new collection, the exceptional architecture, and the renovated museum halls. Tickets for the museum visit during the Opening Festival are on sale from 1 September via kmska.be. You can simultaneously book a time slot for your exploration of the new KMSKA.