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.