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MUSEUM DAMAGE

Prado leak prompts raft of new measures

Museum report reveals 273 works have been moved after March 11 incident

A museum workers opens up one of the vaults in the Jerónomis Building storerooms.
A museum workers opens up one of the vaults in the Jerónomis Building storerooms.LUIS MAGÁN

A water leak in one of the storerooms in the Prado Museum's Jerónimos Building on March 11 has reopened the debate among the gallery's governing bodies over the control and protection of the artworks housed in its vaults.

One direct consequence of the incident is the imminent introduction of a raft of new protection and surveillance measures, as well as the revision of security protocols, in the heart of the famous "Hidden Prado" — the vast collection of work that, despite its great quality and national heritage status, remains out of public sight in the museum archives for space reasons.

The measures are one of the revelations of a technical report looking into the actions carried out in the aftermath of the leak made by the Madrid museum's associate board of preservation and research, to which EL PAÍS has had access. The report will soon come to form part of a final document of conclusions resulting from the March 11 incident that the Prado board will have ready at the end of the month. The authors of the text have left no stone unturned in diagnosing the problems and implementing a battery of what they call "complementary measures for increasing the control of artworks in the reserve spaces."

The leak caused damage of varying degrees to several Spanish drawings from the 18th century and, above all, to several highly valuable paintings, including Jan Brueghel the Elder's The Wedding Banquet (1623).

Firstly, the technical report talks of the necessity of carrying out a review of the registry services in the vaults "in order to learn of the existence of sensitive points of special attention" in the Jerónimos Building. It also recommends a review of registry services in the Villanueva Building storerooms "in order to detect sensitive points."

The state of preservation and repair of the equipment and furniture in the storerooms, as well as their water tightness, is another of the priorities mentioned in the report. It also recommends that Prado restoration staff be included in at least two of the annual checks that registry technicians carry out on the artworks.

It is very normal for things like this to happen in historic buildings"

Another point in the document is the need to review the access protocols for the Prado storerooms, as well as to incorporate "practice exercises and drills" into the collections emergency plan. Lastly, it requests that the vaults from now on be considered "spaces of maximum protection and control" - something that rather implies that up to now they have not been.

"We are doing everything we can, but it is very normal for things like this to happen in buildings of a historic nature," Prado director Miguel Zugaza explained to EL PAÍS on Wednesday. Asked about the fact that the leaks occurred in the storerooms situated in the newest part of the museum — the area remodeled by architect Rafael Moneo in 2007 — Zugaza said: "It is supposed that the new parts of the museum were made to prevent these things from happening... but they happen."

From the report, it can be deduced that what happened on March 11 brought about a small revolution within the walls of the Prado. Proof of that is the fact that a total of 273 artworks were taken from their usual place in the storerooms after the discovery of the leak.

In the same way, the crisis team organized on the day of the discovery — comprising the museum director, the associate director of preservation and research, and the president of the board of trustees — took the controversial decision not to publicly announce what had happened and act as if nothing had occurred to try to limit the damage quickly and effectively. "We didn't think the news had much significance. These are things that happen in top museums," said Zugaza when asked about the decision.

As the technical report states, another of the decisions they took to try to prevent possible damage was to remove all the artworks housed between vaults 131 and 149 — those situated under the electric transmitter where the leaking water was detected. Days later, the works were rehoused in the north and south storerooms in the Villanueva Building. They also systematically checked all the paintings and drawings housed in the storerooms' 212 vaults. Vaults 131 to 149 remain empty to this day.

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