The infrastructure of some of Brussels’s federally funded art museums is in such poor shape that government officials will congregate next week at a “crisis meeting” to discuss it. For years, sections of the Cinquantenaire Museum and the main building of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium have been victim to serious water damage from rainfall, threatening priceless artworks, from ancient Egyptian sarcophagi to paintings by Rubens. As RTL Info reported, the situation is not new but has worsened this month because of the especially rainy weather, with staff at both museums resorting to placing buckets under leaking ceilings, some of which have holes large enough to let in wildlife.
“There is water infiltration, and as of today, a pigeon has started flying around the room,” Cinquantenaire Museum spokesperson Ann Calluy told RTL Info. “So it is a huge problem, and we are going to start renovation of these roofs very quickly.”
Images of the awkwardly placed buckets have been circulating in local media, with one news anchor noting that some tourists think the pails are part of a performance art piece. The Cinquantenaire Museum has also swaddled some of its objects in plastic wrap to protect them from possible water damage. A similar sight greeted recent visitors to the main building of the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium. Photographs from February 2, taken by Pierre Kluyskens of the blog Quovadisart, show buckets dotting rooms where the museum’s prized Rubenses hang; signs give notice that works by Giuseppe Maria Crespi, Jan Gossaert, and others have been temporarily removed, specifically because of “water infiltration.” Such migrations aren’t new: according to La Tribune de l’Art, the museum had to move a collection of Rubens’s sketches to another gallery in September 2014.
On Sunday, Laurent Vrijdaghs, general administrator for Belgium’s building agency, publicly acknowledged the situation, stating that the government has already invested €40 million over the past decade in museum repairs but that it clearly needs to take further action.
“Repairs are necessary at the Royal Museums of Fine Arts and d’Histoire du Cinquantenaire,” he told Décodeurs RTBF. “The museums have all our attention.
“There are still 20 million euros to invest in these next years to ensure that the fine arts museums will be renovated properly,” he added, noting that main repairs to the Cinquantenaire, a historic building commissioned by King Leopold II, will occur later this year. According to Décodeurs RTBF, the overhaul may cost upwards of €100–200 million.
Local media have criticized the federal government for privileging projects such as the construction of prisons and work on the Palais de Justice over the city’s cultural institutions — though La Libre notes that the building agency is already burdened from funding the eradication of asbestos from the Museums of Fine Arts’ modern art wings, a project that has closed those galleries for five years. Vrijdaghs said it’s possible that the Cinquantenaire and Museum of Ancient Art will have to close for a number of years, but he would like to complete renovations in phases so that the institutions remain accessible to all — in addition to simply wanting “to avoid these lamentable scenes with buckets in the galleries.”