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María Pies: "Our main projects are to continue with the collection and make the new museum a real"

María Pies, director of Fundación Engel, talks about the recent exhibition Alcalá 31 and what they expect from the New Museum of Santiago (NUMU). The competition is open for all national architects and has already been launched.

By Ch.ACO Team

The director of Fundación Engel tells what the architecture and landscaping competition for the New Museum of Santiago is about, which will house the collection that includes more than 800 works. The competition invites all national architects, where the winner will be chosen by a grand jury that includes renowned architects such as Toshiko Mori, David Chipperfield, and museum directors such as Glenn Lowry. An important clue to win: that the landscape of the Bicentennial Park - the place where the museum will be built - matches and interacts with the building.

In addition to the project, before the declaration of the pandemic, Fundación Engel was selected to exhibit its collection in Alcalá 31, in the context of the ARCO fair in Madrid. After a year of preparations, the exhibition opened with a good reception, but it had to close shortly after. The works hung for more than a month, but then reopened to the public. María Pies points out in the interview that although there was considerable uncertainty as to whether a significant number of people would attend, the results were positive and unexpected.

What is the NUMU contest about?

NUMU is a national architecture and landscaping project competition for the new Engel Foundation museum. This will be located at the southern end of the Bicentennial Park of Vitacura and is open to all national architects. The competition is anonymous and has a super jury with architects such as David Adjaye, Toshiko Mori, David Chipperfield, Steven Holl, Charles Renfro and Luis Izquierdo, as well as museum directors Frances Morris, director of Tate Modern and Glenn Lowry, director of MoMA.

For us, the selection of the jury was very important because they will contribute to the decision from their vast experience in museums, their global comprehensive perspective and the questioning of how the museums of the future are going to be, something that we as a foundation are always wondering, how they have to be the exhibition spaces in the future, their relationship with the environment, life, flexibility and dynamism that is expected from these spaces. The museum will have a maximum surface area to be built of approximately 7 thousand square meters at different levels of occupation.

Picture by Guillermo Gumiel

"The choice of place is not random, we want to create an environment that dialogs and integrates nature within the museum and that is conceived from the existing geography"

What kind of proposals would you like to have?

We are open to all proposals, that is the fascinating thing about doing a contest. But there are some things that matter a lot to us. First of all, the museum has to consider the surrounding environment as part of it. The choice of place is not random, we want to create an environment that dialogs and integrates nature within the museum and that is conceived from the existing geography. In this case, the location is very spectacular, it is within the Bicentennial Park, but it is also close to the Mapocho River, it has a view towards the San Cristóbal hill, towards the Andes Mountains and we hope that this is integrated into the architecture.

On the other hand, the showrooms are central because art is, obviously, what moves the foundation. Claudio Engel always wonders about the museums of the future, how they should be, and it is because the various manifestations of contemporary art force us to rethink the exhibition spaces. That is why it is important for projects to be very flexible, large, where we are able to exhibit works of various formats and scales, welcoming all these diverse manifestations.

The issue of education and mediation is also relevant for us so it is essential to ask ourselves how the public relates to the museum, art and the park. Finally, through architecture, we hope that the building will become an architectural landmark of the city.

What do you expect from the new museum?

The great project today is to move it forward. We are making good progress and the first thing is to think, project and make real this space that will house the permanent, which today has more than 800 works. With the collection, it is intended to preserve and display this set of artworks that reflects on the contemporary Chilean art scene. This collection is super dynamic and constantly growing. Today our two great projects are to move forward with the collection and obviously make the new museum a reality.

Picture by Guillermo Gumiel

Will this play a role in internationalizing art and make it more accessible?

Of course. What we expect from this museum is that it enrich the public artistic heritage and that it broadens the country's cultural offer, that in the first instance. But also for it to become a platform for artists, a space of collaboration with other institutions and bring together a large national and international audience. To create new opportunities for the development and dissemination of contemporary art.

"Incredibly the exhibition had a good influx of people in this second opening. That is the beauty of art, how the artworks are re-signified"

How were the results of your exhibition at Alcalá 31?

The exhibition had a life that we could never have imagined. Of all the possible scenarios, during the organization of the exhibition, a pandemic never crossed our minds. The exhibition opened with a large public within the framework of the ARCO fair, with good reception and criticism from the people who visited it, and we as a foundation were impressed and happy by the amount of audience and interest in the exhibition. A few days after inaugurating it, it closes due to the pandemic. Of course we did not see it coming.

The works were hung in Madrid, in a city that was greatly affected by the pandemic. After a few months it reopens. For us, there was a whole speculation about what was going to happen, if people were going to return to the museums. Incredibly the exhibition had a good influx of people in this second opening. That is the beauty of art, how the artworks are re-signified after the experience that we had to live and the texts that were written after the reopening the conversations that took place and the comments of people who visited it were very interesting. In such a short time new readings were given that we would not have thought. So the results were unexpected but excellent.

Picture by Guillermo Gumiel

What do you think of these opportunities to internationalize art?

More than opportunities, they are instances that must be pursued and put all the means to make them happen. In Chile we are at the end of the world, which I love because it defines us and often turns out to be a good resource, but it also makes it very difficult for us to show ourselves to the world. Alcalá 31 was an excellent example of the international interest and appreciation of what is happening today in Chile. I think that more than waiting for these opportunities, you have to go out and look for them.

Is that what you have done with the museum, go looking for opportunities?

There are few times when opportunities come to your table. The museum project has been achieved by going to look for them and knocking on doors. The same bidding for the Bicentennial Park was a great job, but with the support of the artists and the good relationship we have with institutions, curators, people from the world of the arts, the Ch.ACO fair, shows us that people are very willing for these types of instances to exist and to collaborate.

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