Rows ruin Prado's birthday festival

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The Independent Online
FOR the Prado museum this was to have been a special year. But the 175th birthday celebrations have turned sour as bureaucratic infighting threatens its reputation.

Yesterday Jose Maria Luzon, 52, an archaeologist, was sworn in as the fourth director in three years. The Culture Minister, Carmen Alborch, conceded she had failed to modernise the museum. The flamboyant redhead said an 'international competition' would be held to see if someone could find a solution to fit 19,000 works into a space that holds less than 2,000.

Three years ago, things were going swimmingly, with over two million visitors a year. Then the Prado appeared to be hit by a jinx. After Ms Alborch was appointed by the Prime Minister, Felipe Gonzalez, last summer, things went from bad to worse. Visitors last year were down to 1.5 million.

The trouble began in 1991. Alfonso Perez Sanchez, director for eight years, was forced to resign after signing a petition criticising the Gulf war. Mr Gonzalez was not pleased. Felipe Garin lasted 30 months before a different storm ended his tenure. On a wet day the rain in Spain fell mainly in the Velazquez gallery. A leaky roof threatened the master's works, and tourists stepped between buckets on the Prado's floors.

Enter Francisco Calvo Serraller, appointed last October. In naming the art critic of the daily El Pais, the Culture Minister perhaps reckoned on getting a better press. Instead, Mr Serraller allowed an interior design magazine partly run by his wife to use the Prado, and Velazquez's Las Meninas, as a backdrop for a furniture advertisement. He resigned last week after 100 days.

Disagreements between directors and Socialist-appointed civil servants in the museum have led to back-stabbing. Members of the Prado's board have been accused of using exhibitions to include some of their private collections, to raise their selling price. Then there was the moving of Spain's most-visited work, Picasso's Guernica, from a Prado annexe to the Queen Sofia museum in 1992, which took many visitors with it.

But the Prado's most pressing need is to create space for about 19,000 works. One of the solutions proposed so far is a new underground section - some joke that that is why the archaeologist, Mr Luzon, was appointed.

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