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2020/12/15

Life Has Started in the World-class Museum Service Facility

In May 2019 Prime Minister Viktor Orbán opened the National Conservation and Storage Centre, a world-class museum service facility constructed as part of the Liget Budapest Project. The hundreds of thousands of artworks and artefacts from the Museum of Fine Arts, the Hungarian National Gallery and the Museum of Ethnography are continuously being moved into the building in Szabolcs Street, which will be home to the greater part of these museums’ collections; moreover, their restoration and conservation will also be carried out here.
The National Storage and Conservation Centre (OMRRK) was built as a brownfield development project in the vicinity of the City Park on the site of the former Jewish Hospital in Szabolcs Street. The new building complex will provide the most advanced storage, conservation and restoration infrastructure for the more than 300 thousand works of the Museum of Fine Arts–Hungarian National Gallery and the Museum of Ethnography. Not only is the OMRRK unmatched in its scale and standards by any other museum support centre in Hungary but it is also one of the largest and most modern such institutions in all of Europe. The centre, which was officially opened in May 2019, is continually receiving collections and some of the museums’ staff members have already moved into their offices; work has already started in the restoration workshops too. 
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Storage problem solved
The largest facility of the new building complex is the central building with a floor space of some 30 thousand square metres, which houses the museum storage rooms and the restoration workshops on four underground levels and three above ground levels fitted with the most modern and secure solutions. The workshops, offices, studios and labs situated here provide the highest standard scientific and technical infrastructure for the museum professionals working at the OMRRK.

It is no exaggeration to say that thanks to the construction of the OMRRK the long-standing storage and art restoration problems faced by the public institutions that will move to the vicinity of the City Park have been solved for decades. The complex will meet the special professional requirements of these institutions, since during the planning phase museologists and restorers provided the designers with an exact description of the types and dimensions of the artworks they wished to store here under modern and safe circumstances. They clearly explained which artworks are stackable, which ones need to be suspended, affixed to a rack, stored in a rolling storage system or on dense shelves, and which objects have to remain in what they were stored in during transportation.
Zsolt Vasáros, the lead architect of Narmer Studio, which designed the complex, has extensive knowledge and experience in regard to the requirements contemporary exhibition spaces and museum storage facilities have to meet; he was therefore not taken by surprise when the directors of the collections and the conservation-restoration experts shared the necessary parameters with him. It was a basic criterion that the storage spaces be air-conditioned and the protection of the artworks was the main factor when determining the humidity levels and lighting solutions.

A new era in restoration
The construction of the restoration workshops was also preceded by great circumspection and extensive consultation: restorers worked together with the architects during the design of each work area. Thanks to the new facility, restorers will be able to do more innovative work in the coming decades since they will have access to state-of-the-art instruments and world standard equipment helping them to carry out their day-to-day artwork protection duties more easily and accurately, while facilitating more efficient research and the development of a database on a par with international examples. The OMRRK has introduced a new era to the Hungarian restoration profession by providing technology previously unavailable in Hungary. Moreover, as its name suggests, it is a national centre, the restoration services of which can be used by other museums and even private collectors in the future.

It was probably the colleagues of the Museum of Ethnography who were looking forward to the completion of the new museum facility the most, since the pieces of their extensive collection can finally be stored and researched under 21st-century circumstances. The turbulent history of the collection of the Museum of Ethnography is well known as the institution never operated in a building specifically designed for a museum during its 150-year history, so its collections were always stored in temporary facilities. The entire material of the Museum of Ethnography comprises 260 thousand objects, which is an extremely high number even by European comparison; a large part of this can now be stored in the OMRRK. The construction of the OMRRK means more than merely bridging the decades’ long gap faced in the past by the three prominent public collections: this development project is ahead of its time since only a handful of European museums can say they have a service facility as complex as the OMRRK. (read about this in more detail in our framed article).

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A research base has been built
Another outstanding facility of the OMRRK complex is the Central European Research Institute for Art History (KEMKI), housed in one of the pavilion buildings of what was formerly the Jewish Hospital and occupying a floor space of more than 3,000 square metres. The masses and the facade of the building were restored according to the original designs, while the offices as well as book and document archives in its interior have been equipped to 21st-century standards to help researchers in their work.
It is envisioned that with its holdings of 1.5 million items KEMKI will be the most important documentation centre of Central European art history for researchers of Hungarian and European art. The basis for this material is made up of the archive documentation, systematically collected by the Museum of Fine Arts and the Hungarian National Gallery for over a century. The institute’s art history archive of 3,500 linear metres (significant even by international comparison) provides an essential source for research into Hungarian art.

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Central European in the institution’s name refers to the research base that is planned to be built with this significant collection at its core, making it possible to organise important international research projects in the future with Budapest as their centre. In cooperation with universities, KEMKI wishes to play a part in Hungarian art history education by supplementing theoretical knowledge with hands-on experience since the institute will be an ideal place for aspiring art historians to learn how to look at paintings with the eyes of a professional, how to examine a signature or how infrared spectroscopy is conducted and what it is used for. They will be able to learn about all those things that cannot be observed and understood at university but only in a museum and, above all, in an environment where artworks are directly accessible.


KEMKI will house another institution, the Artpool Art Research Center, which has an unrivalled archive collection of art movements and trends that emerged from the 1960s onwards, including illegal art trends (underground, samizdat), and is also the venue for their research. Artpool’s archive of 650 linear metres and 2,300 hours of digitalised material makes the research of some 7,500 artists, art groups and institutions possible.

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