CULTURE

Reina Sofia museum gets an extension

If a considerable portion of the Greek public has discovered Madrid’s Reina Sofia Museo Nacional Centro de Arte through two major exhibitions being held at the National Gallery and the Cycladic Museum of Art, friends of the Spanish capital know that the gallery ranks among the world’s greatest modern art centers. The neighboring Prado’s clout may dampen the Reina Sofia’s glamour and deprive it of the appeal associated with other major art centers, such as Pompidou Center in Paris or the Tate Gallery in London, but it is definitely of comparable worth. On the occasion of the two Spanish exhibitions in Greece, the director of the Reina Sofia, Juan Manuel Bonnet, visited Athens. The Spaniard, who belongs to Spain’s new wave of museum directors, seems more like the manager of a multinational company than a director, something rare by Greek standards. Bonnet’s tenure as the chief official at the Reina Sofia coincides with a crucial period of development – the construction of a new wing. «We’re constantly enriching our permanent collection, which has subsequently created a pressing situation regarding space,» Bonnet told Kathimerini. «We invited 10 architects from around the world to submit their ideas and finally opted for Jean Nouvel of France,» he added. The decision to appoint a non-Spaniard for the job, Bonnet noted, sparked some heated reaction in Spain. «These were isolated cases of a nationalistic character. But the overwhelming majority of the public accepted our decision positively,» Bonnet said. For the gallery’s new wing, Nouvel has drafted plans for a triangular construction with intentions to allocate activity to three sections. One part will be used for two large exhibition halls, on two levels, the other will contain a 500-capacity auditorium, while the new wing’s third part will house the museum’s library and video archives. Bonnet described the new wing as «minimalistic» with «impressive 15-meter-long crystal openings.» Construction began a year ago and is expected to be completed by April 2004. The gallery’s extension is one of several concurrent construction projects being developed within the vicinity of downtown Madrid. Opposite the Reina Sofia, the award-winning Spanish architect Rafael Moneo has put his signature to extension work being conducted on the Prado Museum. Down the road, the La Caixa bank is renovating its cultural center with plans by the Swiss pair of Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron. Moreover, another renowned Madrid museum, the Thyssen-Bornemisza, is also being extended. Madrid’s collective activity comes as a stark contrast to the Greek capital’s slow progress with museum projects, such as the new Acropolis Museum and Fix factory remake. According to Bonnet, the Spanish government has kept a close watch over the progress of all the aforementioned projects. Prime Minister Jose Maria Aznar recently invited the architects behind these works to an official dinner, during which he reminded them that the maintenance of time schedules was paramount, Bonnet said. The Spanish prime minister, Bonnet added, stressed to his guests that he would prefer not to step down from his post before these major projects were completed. It all sounds like a far cry from what goes on here! Once the extension at the Reina Sofia is completed, the entire building will be renovated. The museum’s additional floor space will allow curators to reallocate its growing permanent collection. «We want to open up to newer art forms, such as photography, film, video, architecture and design. And we want this change to have an influence on the museum’s permanent collection,» said Bonnet. «Recently, we purchased a significant portion of an exhibition on the great German photographer Andreas Gurski, which was organized by New York’s Museum of Modern Art,» he added. Bonnet attributed his country’s museum boom of the previous decade to Spain’s huge shortage of museum’s in peripheral areas. «If you didn’t live in Madrid, Barcelona, or Bilbao, you felt abandoned. Spain’s periphery seemed like a desert,» he said. Spanish boom This greatest contribution from this trend, Bonnet believes, is not the emergence of new architectural monuments but a new bond that has been created between citizens and the country’s new cultural institutions. «When you have an important museum in your city, you establish a different type of relationship with art,» noted Bonnet. «And because these new museums are not the conventional museums we once knew, it is possible for people to approach them in a new way which includes both physical and spiritual dimensions.»