Spanish Art: Exhibitionism
The Prado’s renaissance.
At the turn of this century the Prado, Spain’s premier art museum, slumbered in neglect.
Limited opening hours and an almost complete lack of information about its paintings seemed calculated to put off visitors.
Deliverance came with a law in 2003 granting it autonomy from the civil service.
Before that the museum’s staff ran the place in their own interest and the director had little power, says Eduardo Serra, a former defence minister who as chair of the Prado’s trustees pushed the law through.
To implement it he hired Miguel Zugaza, a shrewd manager, as director.
Miguel Falomir, who was appointed as Mr Zugaza’s successor on March 21st, inherits a Prado that is flourishing.
It attracts 3m visitors a year.
It has weathered state funding cuts: about 70% of its budget of 45 million euros ($49m) now comes from tickets, merchandising, fees from foreign exhibitions and sponsorship.
Above all, the Prado has shed its provincialism.
“It was very introverted,” says Mr Falomir, an expert on Titian.
It used to mount exhibitions only of Spanish painting.
When it branched out, with shows on Rubens and Titian, colleagues across Europe and America were sceptical.
“Not any more,” he adds.
Last summer’s blockbuster exhibition of three-quarters of the surviving work of Hieronymus Bosch was one that only the Prado, with its large Bosch collection, could have organised.
Mr Falomir still faces challenges.
All museums must cope with mass tourism.
In a sensible compromise, entrance to the Prado is free for the last two hours of each day.
Those who pay 15 euros to come earlier can contemplate Velazquez’s “Las Meninas” with fewer jostling tour parties.
Photographs and selfies are banned.
To counteract young Spaniards’ declining interest in the art of the past, Mr Falomir wants to bring in contemporary art inspired by the Prado’s collection.
As museums become more and more alike, the Prado’s collection remains unique.
Unlike the Louvre or London’s National Gallery, it is not encyclopaedic.
Its core is the royal collection, which reflects the tastes of Spain’s monarchs in its Golden Age.
That makes it “magnificently unbalanced”, says Mr Falomir.
No other museum can count 200 Goyas, 90 Rubenses, 40 Titians or most of the surviving work of Velazquez or Bosch.
To mark the museum’s bicentenary in 2019 work will start on an extension designed by Norman Foster.
It will include a restored Hall of the Realms, the grandest remnant of the 17th-century palace that once stood on the Prado’s site.
Velazquez’s “Surrender of Breda” and his five great equestrian portraits will return to the Hall, where they originally hung.
Some 200 paintings currently in storage will go to the new space.
Spain’s national self-confidence was shaken by the financial crisis of 2008-09.
Many new museums around the country were revealed to be the unaffordable trophies of local politicians.
The Prado’s lesson for post-crisis Spain is that professionalism, entrepreneurial drive and internationalisation bring rewards.