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The MAS, Antwerp’s new museum (video)

The MAS, Antwerp’s new museum (video)

Georges Rouzeau - 2011-10-17

Its spectacular architecture makes the new MAS one of Europe’s most beautiful museums. Inside, collections gleaned from several galleries illustrate the city’s history and present the stories of its donors, all while leading us to reflect on collectors’ objects and our perception of them. A veritable cabinet of global curiosities.

With the MAS, Antwerp has acquired a new museum of international standing. It rises above the old city docks on the banks of the Escaut upon the very foundations of an historic building constructed by the Hanseatic League in the Het Eilandje quarter. Now on the edge of the Flemish metropolis, this ‘little island’ district was once the heart of one of Europe’s biggest industrial ports. More recently, warehouses black with grime, rusty cranes and shady sailors’ dives are being replaced by hip cafés and restaurants, residential buildings, a marina and the showroom of the city’s leading fashion designer, Dries Van Noten.
Designed by the Dutch architect Willem Jan Neutelings, the MAS looks like a jumbled stack of building blocks. Reminiscent of a container ship, it is covered in lovely ochre sandstone from India with grand panels of undulating glass. As with Paris’s Centre Pompidou, imposing escalators take visitors up and up, culminating at sixty metres above ground.
The breathtaking view of the city as seen from the terrace of the uppermost floor (accessible every day ‘til midnight) is the museum’s crowning point. This suits the Museum aan de Stroom, or Museum on the River, perfectly, as it is a museum of the history of the city of Antwerp first, and a classic fine arts museum second.
Very richly endowed, the MAS has pulled together the collections of several aging or ‘temporarily’ closed museums, such as those belonging to the National Marine Museum, the Museum of Folklore and the  Ethnographic Museum. Small streams can converge into great rivers: thus far, the MAS has collected some 470,000 objects. A very small sample of this extensive stock is displayed according to themes that are historic rather than aesthetic (Power, World Port, Life and Death), with exhibits resembling a cabinet of global curiosities. Another collection, the ‘Visible Store’, is accessible via a secured section (large screened cupboards, glass-protected drawers) which gives access to objects ‘as is’ - that is, before they are integrated into a storyline or scenography.
Leaving no detail to chance, the MAS has invited two-star chef Vicky Geunes to oversee the kitchens of the restaurant located on the top floor. For an evening or weekend reservation in this restaurant with an incomparable panoramic view, you may have to book months ahead.
Getting there
The journey from London to Antwerp by train takes around 3 hours. Take Eurostar to Brussels and then Belgian Rail to Antwerp.
CityJet flies direct from London City and Manchester.
The official guide to Flanders and Brussels is at http://www.visitflanders.com/
Where to stay
L’Hôtel O
Brainchild of the architect Jo Peeters, O is the quintessential designer hotel: large white rooms, walls of exposed brick, concrete ceilings, floor lighting, sunken baths, and so on.
Approximately € 165/£ 143 per night
Leopold de Waelplaats, 34
2000 Antwerpen
Tel: (32) 3 292 65 00.

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