Two centuries can bring a lot of baggage but as director of Spain’s National Prado Museum, Miguel Falomir has turned unpacking the past into its own form of fine art. Marking its bicentennial this year, the museum has much to celebrate: its dusty reputation as Spain’s most parochial museum has been swept away, reframed instead as active and outward-looking.
In 2017, to coincide with World Pride festivities in Madrid, an exhibition exploring the historical representation of sexual identity ruffled conservative feathers. This year the curator’s spotlight is on under-represented female artists such as Lavinia Fontana and Sofonisba Anguissola, while a 70-plus-hour archive of audio-visual material, dubbed “the Prado’s Netflix”, was launched on its website.
“This is a modern masters museum but that doesn’t mean we have to be strictly traditional or frozen in the past,” says Falomir. In 2018 about 2.9 million people visited the museum, prompting Falomir and his team to rethink ways to sustain audiences. “The era of the blockbuster exhibition is coming to an end,” he says, calling the format “repetitive, ridiculously expensive and limited by a reluctance from museums to lend out their masterpieces”. Instead he has expanded on-staff expertise, widening the curatorial perspective and acumen of its prestigious restoration department.
“Every generation is tasked with building bridges between the collection and society,” says Falomir. “This comes from finding new subjects and new sensibilities, something which I will continue as director.”