Holocaust survivors’ donation centrepiece of $25M MMFA Pavilion for Peace

The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts opens its new $25 million Michal and Renata Hornstein Pavilion for Peace this weekend and is hoping to attract fresh visitors with the offer of free admission until Jan. 15.

The MMFA has spent years working to shed the stereotype of exclusivity that follows any high art institution.

The Pavillion for Peace is a concrete push in that direction and follows years of increased community outreach.

Curator Nathalie Bondil worked on how people would experience the pavilion.

“For some people the museum is like, a temple for art,” Bondil told CBC News.

“I think we have a strong mission to improve our society.”

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The third floor of the pavilion is called “The Cabinet of Curiosities” and showcases works from the Dutch golden age of art (mid-16th to mid-17th century). (Elysha Enos/CBC)

She said the museum is working with more than 450 organizations to co-create works and bring new voices into the art world.

Part of its push towards inclusion has meant increasing the capacity of its school program and its work with community groups.

The MMFA’s new pavilion even includes a medical consultation room dedicated to research on art therapies, as well as drawing links between art and overall wellbeing.

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In the basement, the pavilion has multi-use rooms designed for student groups. 72,000 students took part in the museum’s school program last year. (Elysha Enos/CBC)

Holocaust survivors dedicated to peace

The Pavillion for Peace was developed after local philanthropists Michal and Renata Hornstein donated their sizable collection of works by old masters to the MMFA in 2012.

Hilliard T. Goldfarb, the museum’s senior curator, called it the greatest single donation of art in the history of Canada.

The museum immediately got to work creating a new building to house the $75 million donation.

This included reaching out to the city of Montreal for $18.5 million in funding and building the pavilion with the distinction of it being the first legacy project of Montreal’s 375th anniversary.

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Resting areas between exhibitions help relieve “museum fatigue.” Jean-Michel Othoniel’s Peony Knot hangs above the level 3 stairway. It’s 3-metres wide and weighs 500 kg. (Elysha Enos/CBC)

Bondil said that as holocaust survivors, the Hornstein’s donation was most suited in the Pavilion for Peace.

The Hornsteins never got to see their work on display however — both died earlier this year at the age of 95.

According to the MMFA’s spokesperson Elisabeth Butikofer, Renata was able to tour the new building and got a sense of how the public would see it before she passed away in July, about three months after her husband.

Combating ‘museum fatigue’

The new pavilion is designed to be seen as an “art circuit” which begins on the fourth floor with works from the middle ages and renaissance, moving downwards until 19th and 20th century art on the first floor.

While designing how people would experience the 750 works on display, the lingering problem of “museum fatigue” was taken into consideration.

In sunny spaces adjacent to the exhibitions on each floor there are tables, cushions and couches so visitors can stop and chat before moving on to the next period.

After labouring for years over how this pavilion would honour old masters while enticing new visitors, Bondil is looking forward to sharing it with the world.

“I think the baby is really beautiful,” she said.

“The new architecture is very open, sunny, it’s really a pleasure just to have a walk though it.”

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