SPaRK researcher Apolline Malevez recently completed a 6 month internship with her project partner Horta Museum in Brussels, read her fascinating account here.
Over the past semester, I have undertaken a placement at the Horta Museum in Brussels, located in the personal house and studio built by the Art Nouveau architect, Victor Horta, between 1898 and 1901. The building has been restored to its original condition; it offers to visitors a unique environment to discover a total Art Nouveau interior, from the dining room to the kitchen and from its winter garden to the servants’ quarters.
The museum’s team is currently preparing a systematic review of its collection, which is not fully inventoried yet. It is mainly in assisting with this task that I undertook my placement. A first step consisted of improving and correcting the database of the furniture and objects owned by the museum. I carried out background research on several objects in order to determine their origin, use or date of creation. Additionally, I had to handle artworks: several boxes of beautiful Art Nouveau door and drawer handles were waiting to be photographed and added to the database.
I also helped the assistant curator to do an estimation of the number of works on paper (drawings, plans, prints, photographs) held by the museum, as well as the state they are in, to prepare future cataloguing and appropriate preservation.
Through my placement, I gained an intimate knowledge of the collection of the museum, but my work was not without challenges. Several layers of editing had indeed jeopardised the coherence of the database, which also had important gaps of information. Moreover, it took some trial and error to design the appropriate method for the collection’s systematic review.
Thanks to this experience in the Horta Museum, I realised that the collection of a museum is its ‘starting point’: it opens up possibilities which might remain limited without an accurate inventory and the appropriate preservation of the (art)works. I appreciate that it is not possible to dedicate the equivalent of a full-time job to this task in a museum operating with a team of just four employees. However, it reveals how the lack of a sufficient and structural funding is detrimental to one of the museum’s core missions. More resources in terms of staff and funding would provide employees and interns alike the opportunity to get involved more creatively with the museum’s collection by, for example, designing new material or thematic approaches for visitors.
Overall, I am grateful of this opportunity of engaging more closely with works related to my research on Belgian fin-de-siècle interiors, participating in the daily life of a museum as well as gaining skills for inventorying, handling artworks and organising exhibitions.
To read more about Apolline's project click here.
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