Finger pointed at OMA's gallery design in art heist
Security expert describes Kunsthal Rotterdam as ‘nightmare to protect’
A Dutch gallery building designed by Rem Koolhaas was the site of a major art heist this week, with thieves making off with paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Gaugin, Meyer de Haan, Lucien Freud and Monet worth tens of millions of pounds.
Museum security specialist Ton Cremers said some of the fault for the theft lay in the design of Rotterdam’s Kunsthal which was completed in 1992 and was one of OMA’s first major built projects.
“As a gallery it is a gem. But it is an awful building to have to protect. If you hold your face up to the window at the back you have a good view of the paintings, which makes it all too easy for thieves to plot taking them from the walls,” he said.
“It’s just a big box with glass doors and windows and no inside compartments.”
To be secure, museums should be designed like onions with the most valuable exhibits kept at the centre, said Cremers, former head of security at Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum.
But he said the blame did not lie with Koolhaas because the Kunsthal was not originally intended to house such valuable paintings. The current exhibition was put together to celebrate its 20th anniversary.
He criticised the museum for hanging priceless works in an insecure environment. But he said ultimate blame belonged to the City of Rotterdam which recently refused to pay for a security upgrade.
The raid on the gallery took place at dawn and has been described as well planned and bold. Jop Ubbens, general director of Christie’s in Amsterdam specultaed that the paintings could have been “stolen to order”.
The works have now been listed of the Art Loss Register, which will make any attempt to sell them on very difficult.
Naming the Kunsthal as one of their biggest inspirations last year, Roger Hawkins and Russell Brown of Hawkins Brown described the building as “witty without being a one-liner, human yet austere.”
“The building is known for its structural gymnastics and its very particular use of materials,” said Brown. “It’s an arts building so that approach is entirely appropriate, and Koolhaas has put extra thought and love into it. He achieves a lot with slim means. It’s not an expensive building but it shows that you can create big architecture with a little.”
About the Kunsthal:
The Kunsthal was one of OMA’s first major built projects, completed in 1992 in collaboration with the structural engineer Cecil Balmond. The cultural centre provides 3,300sq m of exhibition spaces for temporary shows arranged over three halls and two galleries.
The 7,000sq m building is located along Rotterdam’s busy Maasboulevard expressway on top of a dike, with the Museumpark neighbourhood to the north. A pedestrian ramp slopes down through the building from south to north while a road runs east/west beneath it at the top of the site.
Its square plan is divided into four parts connected by a continuous, spiralling route through the levels which creates views up, down, across and out as required, sometimes framing views of the park, sometimes offering glimpses of other levels.
The building is full of surprises and inconsistencies. There is no single clear main elevation and each receives completely different treatments.
Columns are seemingly eccentrically arranged – they slant in the auditorium to remain perpendicular to the sloping floor slab and refuse to conform to a grid in the exhibition halls.
Koolhaas’s presence looms large in the building and not just in the form of the building itself – a large photographic portrait of him looks down unsmilingly on visitors as they walk up through the building.