Where technology meets culture
Until the birth of Artothèque, the museums of the city of Mons had no repositories worthy of the name. Works from local museums were stored in cellars and attics – wherever conservators and curators could find a space. The storage situation became increasingly problematic from 2000 onward, when the city began implementing a dynamic exhibition policy, with permanent exhibitions and travelling exhibitions hosted in different locations. Following the emptying of the Jean Lescart Museum during redevelopment of Beaux-Arts Mons (BAM), the need to create a central artwork repository to house the city museums’ disparate collections became urgent.
The former Ursuline Convent chapel is a remarkable example of classical architecture, significantly altered after the Second World War as a result of bomb damage, which resulted in the loss of its original interior. Rather than try to restore the lost elements, architects Pierre Van Assche and Catherine Dohmen of Atelier Gigogne instead chose to make a virtue of the empty, concrete-floored void, constructing a modern building-within-a-building to house artworks, repositories, visible storage and a study floor.
Artothèque is now a thriving centre for archiving, researching, restoring and studying the heritage of Mons. It provides a safe home for the collections that cannot be permanently exhibited at any of the city’s other museum sites. In addition to its conservation role, the centre plays an important part in the promotion of Mons heritage, not only by making it accessible online, but also by revealing some of the more “hidden” work of museums through an elegant series of visible storage spaces in the building itself, providing a glimpse of the day-to-day activities of conservators.
“The building is a historic bridge between the old town and the modern. This is fully consistent with the leitmotif of Mons 2015: ‘where new technology meets culture’.”
Michel De Reymaeker – Head Curator of Museum Collections, Pôle Muséal, City of Mons
The project is highly scalable and is the subject of an important collaboration with the architects.
Taking stock of the collection and optimising storage in the repositories at artothèque
The repositories at Artothèque bring together a wide variety of stored objects from the Mons museum network, with artefacts stretching from prehistory to contemporary art.
“Our first stage was to quantify the job at hand. It was also necessary to rationalize the storage. Our common denominator was the materials [being stored].”
Sophie Simon – Deputy Conservator of museum collections, Pôle Muséal, City of Mons
The computerisation of the inventory helped the museum collections teams to accurately quantify its storage requirements. Removal and analysis was carried out simultaneously. During the inventory, the status of the each object in the collection was recorded, the object was photographed, and its location listed.
To streamline the storage, Sophie Simon also took some examples of museums reserves furniture to complement the existing furniture that has been reused.
“We worked on the basis that each artwork had its own place in the building, even when it was out on loan for exhibition elsewhere. We also had to predict the expansion of the collections. So we needed to maximise space [for the collections]. Bruynzeel’s contribution was invaluable in this regard,” said curator Sophie Simon.
Storage systems tailored to each floor
Bruynzeel produced and installed customized shelves, drawers, storage for clothing and static and mobile picture racking – some behind glass in the public galleries on the ground floor.
“We paid close attention to the choice of fittings. We selected smart storage. For example, we are pleased with our display cabinets that protect the works from light and dust while facilitating access to objects by the general public,” said Sophie Simon.
The design of the public area is carefully integrated with the storage systems. After entering the chapel, visiting members of the public are met in the lobby by a combination of digital displays for carrying out information searches and display cases containing real works and artefacts – including artworks on mobile picture racking, behind glass.
The tour continues in a room equipped with picture racks along the walls, additional perforated shelves (for increased ventilation) and interactive cabinet displays.
Repository – Floors 1 and 2
Mobile picture racking was installed in the stores to maximize storage space, with fixed picture racking attached to wall available walls.
Repository – Floor 5
Pallet racking, plan chests, and cabinets with drawers of varying sizes make it possible to store many different types of objects, from prehistoric stone tools to contemporary works of art.
The storage solutions for the repositories have met with universally positive responses from the conservators and collections managers in the City of Mons.
“We are very happy with all the storage systems installed, especially the mobile picture racking that eliminates vibrations. To our knowledge, this is the best system for the safe preservation of paintings. In addition the storage facilities at Artothèque are admired, and are already highly regarded as a case study [of best practice].”
Sophie Simon and Michel De Reymaeker – Pôle Muséal, City of Mons