San Telmo Museum Opens Its Doors with a Multi-Disciplinary View, Open to Dialogue
SAN SEBASTIAN.- The San Telmo Museum has officially reopened in San Sebastián, after 4 years of rehabilitation work on the historical building and a brand new extension, the work of Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos, in addition to the complete turnaround in its publishing strategy, now focussed firmly on society and citizenship from all possible angles: artistic, historical, disseminative, etc.
The San Telmo Museum, inaugurated in 1902, is the oldest in the Basque Country and brings its rich intellectual and patrimonial legacy right into the 21st century. The extension and rehabilitation carried out between 2004 and 2011 make it possible for the museum to reopen with new objectives from a multidisciplinary view, open to contemporary dialogue and debate. San Telmo is presented as a museum and, at the same time, a place to disseminate knowledge and create thought; it is an instrument to understand the present and build the future from encounters with the past and with our roots.
The surprising architectonic project is the work of Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos, a studio with recognised international prestige that based its proposal on recovering the original building and producing a new contemporary block, gaining space for new uses and temporary exhibitions.
The historical building – a 16th century Dominican convent – that constitutes the basis of the museum, required urgent rehabilitation work to improve its condition and protect it falling into disrepair over time. The work has recovered original volumes – the cloister, the church, the tower and the chapels – eliminating structures that had been added during a renovation in 1932, modifying its original structure. The drainage, consolidation and restoration of original stone and wood constructive elements have been completed and adaptation work has taken place on the facilities, etc.
The other key aspect to the new San Telmo Museum is its extension with a new wing, under Mount Urgull along the seashore, intended to house the new cultural and commercial uses plus optimise accessibility for the public and the collections. The visual impact of the modern construction has been minimised thanks to the architects being able to work closely with artists Leopoldo Ferrán and Agustina Otero who have created a semi-plant wall covering the building with perforated steel sheets. These sheets let the plants through so that they overhang just like the eroded stone on Mount Urgull that inspired the artists. So as Nieto Sobejano describes, this forms “a new plant wall, deep and light, that replies on the existing topographical difference and that hides two wings inside it.”
The historical building and part of the top floor of the new wings will house the San Telmo Museum permanent collection. This exhibition recovers funds that have historically been on show in the museum since it was set up, enriched by new acquisitions and findings. The San Telmo Museum collection is divided into the following sections: Ethnography, Fine Art, Photography, Archaeology and History.
Over 26,000 listed pieces make up the museum’s collections: paintings, sculptures, drawings, etchings, Egyptian figures, weapons, medals, ceramics, musical instruments, steles, argizaiolas – wooden funeral tables traditional used in the Basque Country – maps, photographs, farming equipment or industrial objects. A selection of these pieces will be displayed to the public in different exhibitive segments encompassed within the titles “Traces in Time”, “Awakening of Modernity” and “Art History Collection” in addition to the “From a Convent to a Museum” audiovisual showing visitors how San Telmo has changed and developed and the milestones throughout its history.
In addition, there have been several archaeological findings during the rehabilitation process including the discovery of vestiges of old paintings from the end of the 16th century in the church that had been covered until this rehabilitation. These are Mannerist paintings that research by Pedro Echeverría, professor from the Modern Art Department at the University of the Basque Country, has linked to the most relevant artists of the period, directly related to the El Escorial circle. These paintings make the church more attractive, alongside the renowned large format canvases by José María Sert.
In the church, the public can also permanently visit the audiovisual montage entitled “Challenges for Our Society” that uses interactive light and sound projections to analyse the three challenges for Basque society in the future: sustainability, interculturality, equality, Europe and Human Rights. These are universal challenges that will look at people’s capability to intervene in the world around them and thereby participate in building their future. So the museum will give us an insight into Basque history and society whilst always encouraging reflection on the society and citizens’ questions and concerns in their most universal facet.
Finally, looking at the cultural environment of the museum, the Convent Tower will house “Museum of Gipuzkoa museums” offering information on centres in the Gipuzkoa museum network. Some of them, such as the Oteiza museum, will temporarily lend works from their funds to be displayed in the San Telmo Museum.
Temporary exhibition and new uses
The personality of San Telmo as a society museum will be completed with an offer of large format temporary exhibitions, on topics linked to the cultural, social and artistic memory and heritage at local, national and international level. Thanks to new rooms, the museum has almost 1000 m2 of space – distributed between the new building and the convent chapels – to develop an extensive exhibition programme.
The first of these shows which can be visited until the end of August is “6 billion Others” an audiovisual show by Yann Arthus-Bertrand, from the GoodPlanet foundation working with artists Sibille d’Orgeval and Baptiste Rouget Luchaire, looking at the essence of human beings. Forty fundamental questions asked to 5000 people throughout the world help us to discover what separates us from and unites us with the Planet’s inhabitants in this exhibition visiting Spain for the first time.