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Nico Van Hout on the closure of the museum

[The film begins with Dr. Nico Van Hout, a curator with the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp, speaking as he walks through the museum. He is talking about the paintings that have been lined on the floor against the walls. The camera shows the works.]

Dr. Nico Van Hout:

“These paintings have been packed and lined against the walls in preparation of their transfer to Lier and other museums. It saddens me to see all these pieces removed from the galleries. After all, the museum will remain closed for several years.”

[Music begins. The camera pans quickly through the rooms of the museum. Since the closure of the building, they have been used as extra storage space for the collection pending its transfer to various locations. There are numerous paintings – some already packed in cases – leaning against the walls or lying on the ground. The title of the film is superimposed: “Nico Van Hout on the Closure of the Museum – Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp”. The interview with Dr. Van Hout continues. He points at the paintings he is talking about. The camera zooms in. As the interview progresses, the screen is split. On the right, Dr. Van Hout providing commentary; on the left, shots of various paintings.]

Dr. Nico Van Hout:

“Some of the paintings in this next room will serve as centrepieces in an exhibition in Lier, including The Adoration of the Magi by Pieter Bruegel the Younger. The exhibition will feature a broad selection of paintings illustrating Bruegel's influence on subsequent Flemish artists right up into the 20th century. We're also collaborating on some international exhibitions, including in the United States. And a number of loans have been arranged to museums here in Belgium and in the Netherlands. So quite a few paintings will remain on public display. Inevitably, though, many will not. That also saddens me. As a curator, I prefer to see paintings hanging on museum walls. That speaks for itself.

[The camera zooms in on the barcodes that have been attached to the paintings. The interview with Dr. Van Hout continues.]

Dr. Nico Van Hout:

“These barcodes are a way of identifying the paintings and facilitating the transfer of the collection. You see, the museum holds several thousand works of art. Obviously it would be impractical for all members of staff to have to memorise their titles. It's much simpler to scan the code before transportation, so that we know precisely what comes in or goes out of the museum."

[The camera shows paintings that have been stored in the rooms of the museum. The interview continues in another room, containing various works on panel. As Dr. Van Hout speaks, he walks over to the paintings to explain about the cradles that have been applied to the back of the panels. He then walks to a kind of table that is used to unblock and repair panels.]

Dr. Nico Van Hout:

“The collection includes quite a few paintings on panel. Not all of these panels are in equally good condition. And when you move a painting to another location, the climatic conditions may vary or fluctuate. Moreover, back in the 19th century, many panels were fitted with a cradle, as in these examples. Battens were glued to the back of the panels to keep them straight or flat. But in fact such interventions were ill-advised, because the cradle restrains the wood. This can cause the panels to split. So it's important to unfasten the battens prior to transportation, so that the wood could react to changing conditions. Here we have a system to unblock panels or to fix any splits that may have appeared. That's what we use these tables for.”

[Dr. Van Hout enters the Rubens gallery, where two men are in the process of moving a case. The interview continues. Images are shown of the panels Dr. Van Hout is talking about.]

Dr. Nico Van Hout:

“During the closure of the museum, many of the large altarpieces by Rubens will be kept in safe storage. These hatches will be opened and the paintings will be lowered into a kind of bunker. Below, there is a large vault with very thick walls, where the altarpieces can be safely stored without moving them out of the building. So they will stay inside the museum, protected behind massive walls, while the building is converted.”

[The camera shows the Rubens gallery and the scaffold for studying the monumental paintings. Dr. Van Hout talks on.]

Dr. Nico Van Hout:

“We'll be unable to continue our research on the altarpieces during the closure. In the past years, we've been using raised platforms to study details in the paintings from close by as part of our ongoing Rubens research. The results have been published. Details are also available on the museum website. As these large paintings will soon be locked away during the years of renovation work to the building, we're trying to finalise as much of the research as possible. The smaller paintings will be available for study elsewhere. But these monumental pieces will be inaccessible in their safe storage.”

[Standing on the platform, two research assistants are photographing Peter Paul Rubens’s Baptism of Christ. The words Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp – Closed but close by appear on the screen and the film ends.]

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