say thyssen-bornemisza five times fast

Imagine being so outrageously wealthy that you run out of space to display your encyclopedic collection of art.  Then imagine convincing the government to spruce up the 18th-century Palace of Villahermosa so that you can establish your own museum – across the street from the Prado, no less -  and free up a bit of wall space at home.  In a nutshell, that’s the story behind the Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, the legacy of steel magnate Baron Thyssen-Bornemisza and his wife, Carmen, a former Miss Espana and ex-wife of Lex “Tarzan” Barker. While the Prado allows you to focus in depth on the body of work from a number of great painters, the Thyssen gives you a stunning overview of art history from the Renaissance, to Flanders and France, German Expressionism, 19th Century North America, to Cubism, the Avant Garde and Pop Art. As if that were not enough, beginning in the late 1980’s local-girl-made-good Carmen started assembling her own collection of pictures.  So they built an extension to house the separate – yet complementary – Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza Collection, which while particularly rich in late- and post-Impressionists also covers the waterfront, so to speak. It’s all wonderfully eclectic to say the least – and small enough to be enjoyable while not overwhelming. I think what impressed me most of all was how expansively the collection delves into 19th century North American and Hudson River School painting.  (What a surprise to see the Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington’s cook, Hercules.) We are so accustomed to revering the early European masters that it’s almost shocking to discover they could take any serious interest in our own pre-imperial culture.

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wishlist: mas

Built in the center of Antwerp’s Eilandje district, the new Museum Aan de Stroom – or MAS – is an extraordinary building, reminiscent of the 16th-Century storehouses that were once typical of the old city’s port.  In homage, the Neutelings and Riedijk designed tower has been conceived as a giant warehouse itself, with vertically stacked containers or “boxes” creating an internal spiral of exhibition space.  As you ascend, protected by a glass facade, your view of the city constantly changes – culminating in a 360° panorama atop the roof.

Chartered as a contemporary museum “for and about the world,” MAS’s exhibits will  draw largely from the Flanders municipal collections: the National Maritime Museum, the Museum for Regional Ethnology, the Ethnographic Museum, and the Vleeshuis Museum. And although the museum doesn’t officially open until May 17, you can get a sneak peek at the building and see the first exhibit on nearby Scheldt quay:  sixteen cranes, which chart the incredibly fast technological developments that have transformed the port over the last century.  Dating from as early as 1907, this is – dare I make clear? – the largest museum collection of port cranes in the world.

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