Due to lack of money, Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen had to opt for a more sober version of the large-scale renovation. But director Sjarel Ex is hoping that new enthusiasm will provide additional funds.
2021 had a Janus head for the Boijmans Van Beuningen museum. On the one hand, we praised the Depot, the collection building accessible to the public. On the other hand, the Rotterdam museum itself will remain closed until 2029 due to asbestos removal, refurbishment and renewal – longer than expected.
And there is no money for the more ambitious variant, which includes a new pavilion for contemporary art. However, Sjarel Ex (64) does not want to hear about a setback. “Success is not the only thing in your path when you are on your way,” says the museum director. “Or, as they say in Rotterdam: it’s not shit without growing.
The museum does not have a “floor,” but the collection can still be seen, according to Ex. Despite the crown, we were able to show 180 surrealist masterpieces in New Zealand, South Korea and soon in Mexico . There was ‘Boijmans bij de Buren’, collaborations with other museums in Rotterdam. In the Feijenoord neighborhood we now have Boijmans Hillevliet, a project to study with schools and locals how to bring art to a neighborhood. ‘
How were the first experiences at the Depot until confinement?
“It was a great week. The architecture attracts the attention of the whole world. Media analysis shows that 2.5 billion readers, listeners and viewers have been affected, including 584 million Chinese alone. Inside is a treasure. The Depot makes people curious in ways almost unimaginable. About how we store art, how we restore. A curator studied a print by Piranesi, which visitors saw through the window. Was there a knock on the window: can we take a look? Incredibly fun.
In the meantime, Boijmans has been closed since 2019. And it will last until 2029.
“The building turned out to be our Achilles heel. Our collection was stored 6 meters underground, up to a drawing by Leonardo, with all the resulting risks of water damage. The monumental parts of the buildings from 1935 and 1972 were full of asbestos. The building part of 2003 was built at the time for two thirds of the budget. It makes sense that the museum no longer meets all the wishes and demands of today.
“Since I became director in 2004, around 250 letters, reports and a few summaries have been exchanged with the municipality, the owner of the building and much of the collection. It will take more time and energy than expected, but the museum will rise from its ashes like a phoenix.
In the plans of the architectural firm Mecanoo, two parts of the building will be demolished, the 2003 extension by Robbrecht and Daem and the 1991 pavilion by Henket. These architects protested. How do you get along with them? With financial compensation?
“With a series of good conversations, I hope. But it ultimately depends on our client, the municipality. I don’t think it would be wise to have this conversation in the newspaper.
For lack of external funders, the ambitious variant of the renovation was canceled. There will therefore be no new contemporary art pavilion.
‘Not yet. But it can still be added later, there is a lot of room for it in this variant. Fundraising is always exciting. This improves as the end of a project draws near. When the Depot was already under construction, more than a thousand mirrors were adopted for 1,000 euros each. We’ve been around for 172 years, there have been dozens of construction plans. We are on eternity.
The Van der Vorm family’s philanthropic foundation Droom en Daad wanted to contribute 40 million to the museum and another 40 million to a branch for contemporary art in the south of Rotterdam. How could this warm contact have been so diluted?
‘Droom en Daad is a friendly cultural foundation in Rotterdam, and Wim Pijbes (director Droom en Daad, former director of the Kunsthal and Rijksmuseum) is a valued colleague. They made a major contribution to Boijmans bij de Buren. And the Bergen Glass Foundation (also owned by the wealthy Rotterdam Van der Vorm family, Red.) contributed $ 27 million to the Deposit. Of course, such a sum would have been welcome, but yes.
Has Boijmans lost the canon factor?
“It took us 17 years to complete the Deposit, and 42 million euros in donations became available. You act like it’s a cat jump. The renovations of the Stedelijk and Rijks in Amsterdam have not been easy either. That the situation is worrying, yes, but something like that never happens overnight. Maybe we are too big for this city and we should become a Rijksmuseum. ‘
If you retire in three years, Boijmans will still be closed. How much fun is that?
“I’m director number 13. Number 14, my colleague director Ina Klaassen, has been active for years. After that comes a number 15 and 16, and so on. I raised 300 million euros, created a great program and was able to acquire thousands of works of art. Builds a repository. My successor and that of Ina will take over.
In 1999, there was a daring plan to finance a renovation: sell the Rothko. Idea?
‘Never! During our lifetime, 1,700 families and institutions donated 30,000 works of art to us. Do you think that if we sell something, only one more work will be added? We are in a triple jump. The trick is to remove and renovate asbestos. The stage is the deposit. The jump is where we are now.
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