Recycling my local Metro too early had the consequence that I did not know much of the events of this weekend in Stockholm. Nevertheless, just because I had decided to go to see the Kastellholmen off Skeppsholmen where I had never walked before meant that I managed to walk into the event of the weekend. The National Museum, Stockholm’s main art museum, devoted to the old European art, has closed and is about to go under a major renovation project in order to bring it up to the modern standards in security and otherwise.
Nowadays all major excavation and building project have open days where these projects are presented to the community and different stakeholders. Even if there were some very fancy printed leaflets around, most of the posters were simply A1 printouts and many of the smaller posters just A4s with handwritten texts. I assume this is a way to bring that sense of the moment and familiarity of everyday life into the event, although one must say it was very much cheaper this way. The museum had been emptied of all the art works, all the tills had gone and most of the specially built displays had been dismantled. In a few rooms some of the old displays and signs had been left in order to underline the change that is around the corner.
It was marvellous to walk around the empty rooms and wonder the many classical features of the architecture and the painted murals of the main staircase. Many of the rooms open have never been open to the general public. The emptied rooms included the former workspace of the director of the museum, the paper preservation halls and the research library. All these rooms happened to have marvellous views over Skeppsholmen or the Royal Castle. No wonder the internal workings of the museum are to move somewhere else and all these marvellous rooms become part of the exhibition space or different cafeteria or restaurant areas.
This eagerness to open the whole building to the general public raises one important question. Where are the conservators going to go? When I asked this from the black-coated person – one of the army of ‘guides’ from the restoration and building company of the Swedish state – in the former paper preservation laboratory, he did know. He said that they have been told that the conservators will move outside the city. However, when I asked, if these will be new purpose-built premises, he said they had not been told. In an empty building the restoration of which had been decided at the government level and that is filled with posters telling us how this is an important part of our Swedish heritage, this raises uneasiness.
The commercialisation of most cultural experiences and activities is quite alarming. The University libraries are renovated with more words spent explaining the new online facilities and cafeteria places than is used to describing the improved preservation of collections. Now here we have a museum that ‘oursources’ its conservation work somewhere nobody knows where. At the moment everything is on the neighbouring Skeppholmen, but this is not a long-term solution as the ‘guide’ explained. This shows that showing the collection and serving the viewers food is seen as the core activity of the museum, but the preserving the collection and making sure it will be presentable, is apparently an afterthought.
Everywhere in the posters the visitors were told how the renovation work will open the museum and bring the light in. The film shown in the auditorium showed literally sunlight coming into a classical exhibition room filled with white marble statues. Maybe that will be all they are showing, since the last time I checked oil paintings and the direct sunlight do not go well together. Maybe they have some new technological solutions that allow to get rid of the dimmer rooms where the most valuable paintings are held and allow both the works of art and the visitors to thrive in the modern airy spaces. Otherwise museums have been taken over by management consultants who hope that they can pull the rabbit out of the hat...
PS. Apparently the renewal of windows includes some new high-tech material that takes away the harmful rays. Let's hope it will be a success. And not just expensive.