Published on Wednesday 5 October 2016

As the National Museum of Fine Arts closes its doors, senior curator and MUŻA Project Lead Alexander Debono reflects on a changing visual arts sector in an exclusive piece for

I am writing this piece on my way back from New York where I had the pleasure and honour to accompany what is perhaps one of the top paintings in the National Museum of Fine Arts collection. Judith and Holfernes’ , by the 17th century master Valentin de Boulogne, will be the centrepiece of a major exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the first ever dedicated entirely to the artist’s oeuvre and repertoire. The painting has not been on display abroad since 1973 when it  featured in a major exhibition in Rome and Paris dedicated to the French followers of Caravaggio. The collection was then in transit to its new seat on South Street, then known as Admiralty House, where it has been for the last 42 years.

They say history repeats itself. I have no doubt that it does.       

The painting is the first to move out of the building as it slowly continues to be vacated. The place is a receptacle of memories for many and it will be hard for us all as we hold our last event. It feels very much like an old jumper which you’ve worn for so long, day after day, month after month... Then you suddenly realise you’ve grown out of it and have to let go.

Way back in 1974, the new National Museum of Fine Arts was Malta’s one-stop-shop for the visual arts.  Malta had no art galleries and creativity centres, much less funding for creativity and innovation in the arts. Almost half a century later, the sector has evolved and developed into something which is no match to what it was half a century earlier. 

Progress is impossible without change they say. This is a case in point. 

Closing the main door for one last time is much more than a simple, necessary gesture. This shall hopefully not just be a change in venue but more about a culture change waiting to happen, thanks to a new tool named MUŻA, a national community art museum. Closing the doors at South Street is also one other milestone in a series yet to come as we move forward with the necessary restoration works on building and collection and all the infrastructure necessary and required for a 21st century museum. There is much that has been done so far, but much more that needs to be seen to... an endless list of to-dos which we hope to tackle day by day, week by week as we move forward with the project.    

On to the next milestone...