Museum security shortage means many masterpieces closed to public

Museum security shortage means many masterpieces closed to public
Credit: The Royal Museums of Fine Arts

While museums are allowed to keep their doors open even under Belgium’s latest tightening of coronavirus measures, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (RMFA) are closing the rooms that contain the masterworks of the Old Masters for six months.

The reason is a lack of security personnel to protect the masterpieces - 19 security guards, in fact, according to reporting from VRT.

A spokesperson for the RMFA pointed to budget cuts for federal institutions that go back as far as 2011, and says they’ve lost 35 staff members just since the start of 2019.

“Corona puts salt on the wound,” RMFA spokesperson Samir Al-Haddad told Bruzz. “We now have to use more staff with the coronavirus measures, while we have fewer and fewer people.”

Several positions for security personnel are said not to have been filled after others retired, or contracts for previous security staff were not extended, which resulted in the shortage.

Rare Rembrandts, Rubens, and works from the French painter Jacques Louis David - the works being put into storage because they cannot be adequately protected are masterpieces by some of the most iconic artists.

“We would have preferred to open everything, but unfortunately this is not possible now. We are under the limit to keep all collections open. So the collections are open alternately, as in other large cultural institutions,” said Al-Haddad.

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Because the Royal Museum of Fine Arts Antwerp is also closed for major renovation works, there is currently no large museum showing Rubens's famous altarpieces.

The Museum of Art & History in the Cinquantenaire Park is also restricting access to the public. They’re now only open to visitors on Saturdays and Sundays, citing a decline in visitors since the start of the pandemic.

The RMFA has already closed rooms in order to accommodate the addition of the Fin-de-siècle Museum, which features works from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Other rooms are closed due to renovations.

“We are hopeful that our Minister of State for Science Policy Thomas Dermine will be able to find a solution to this, so that we can open all collections to the public again from October,” Al-Haddad said. “For this, our personnel plan must be approved, selections made and budget freed up.”

Dermine (PS) is in charge of the federal museums.

Helen Lyons

The Brussels Times

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