Why should you visit the MAS in Antwerp?
Do you think museums are boring? Smell funny? Are full of a bunch of old people? I’m about to prove you wrong! Museums are evolving and so is the MAS (Museum aan de Stroom) in Antwerp.
This is not a standard museum as its looks already reveal: a 60-meter-high red giant landmark. The MAS offers a variety of interesting permanent and temporary exhibitions suitable for all ages.
Schedule some time in your agenda, because the MAS has a collection of nearly 500,000 (!) pieces. Ever since the opening, in May 2011, the MAS is a must-see in Antwerp.
1. Interesting (temporary) exhibitions
When Michel and I visited the MAS there were six exhibitions. For the most current exhibitions please check their website.
- Instinct is created by the MAS’s youth crew and shows off the wild side of the museum collection. Let your instinct lead you through this unique exhibition.
- Celebration! is a true feast for all your senses. It takes you through the various traditions around the world in celebration of life’s rites of passage.
- Antwerp à la carte reveals the intimate relationship between the city and food, from the sixteenth century to the distant future.
- World port allows you to dive into the history of Antwerp’s port. And you will follow its ups and downs as it grows into one of the world’s largest international crossroads.
- Life & Death enters the underworld with its grisly gods. Listen to the various myths that have attempted to explain death and interpret the different philosophical ideas about life and death.
- Art from Pre-Columbian America tells you all about the extraordinary relationship between man and the world of gods, ancestors and spirits in America before the conquest of Europe.
Each exhibition is divided into several areas to get you familiar with the subject/story: wake-up, introduction, focus, wow-effect, concentration, knowledge and at the end of each exhibition you can leave your trace. This pattern makes learning new topics exciting and fun.
As soon as you enter an exhibition you will find a handy free brochure (available in four languages) to bring along with you. Each room comes across as spacious, modern and well kept. The museum showcases each object at its very best. But the collection really comes alive by the presence of video, music, and the ability to interact with the art work. It makes you feel like you are a part of the story. Oh, and the museum also offers a free app in which you can look up each individual piece. Don’t you just love it when a museum keeps up with modern technology? I for sure do!
2. Hidden treasures at the visible storage area
The MAS storage area (free of charge) is not an ordinary warehouse. This impressive room gives you a special look behind-the-scenes showcasing about 180,000 art pieces. Discover museum items in racks, cabinets and find hidden gems by pulling out drawers. I bet you will be surprised…
3. Impressive architecture
As I told you before the MAS is definitely an Instagrammable hotspot. Go inside, outside, admire its architecture from a distance; I bet you’ll keep discovering new angles. With its one-of-a-kind-look the MAS has managed to boost the old fashioned harbor district into a revived neighborhood where you can find hip lunch spots, art, a local market (every Friday), and yearly returning events.
The Dutch architectural firm Neutelings Riedijk Architecten inspired themselves on huge contemporary storehouses of the 19th-century. The architecture style connects very well with its location next to the Scheldt river; rippling glass, reflections, and on the panoramic roof top you overlook the impressive Port of Antwerp.
4. Unique museum square “Dead Skull”
On the museum square you’ll discover a giant, and pretty scary, mosaic by renowned Belgian artist Luc Tuymans. Dead Skull refers to Tuymans’ 2002 painting “Dead Skull” in which Tuymans connects present with past.
When you look down from the MAS’ rooftop you immediately realize how big this piece is! It contains 96,569 stones in 11 different colors from all over the world. Check out the cool time lapse of the installation process that took about a year to finish.
5. An incredible 360-degree panorama deck
As soon as you enter the museum you will notice that the different exhibition floors are connected by escalators. They will take you up to each floor and all the way up to the roof deck. The terrace looks really clean and modern, but I would not describe it as cozy.
There is no bar/cafe and there are no benches to sit to down. I think that is kind of a missed opportunity, because the 360-degree view of the city is absolutely magnificent. It would have been awesome to be able to relax while sipping on a drink. But getting to the rooftop is totally free, so I don’t feel I have to right to complain about it, haha.
6. Cool (artsy) pieces at the MAS Shop
Near the entrance of the museum you will find the MAS Shop. This cool shop sells a wide range of products such as books, posters, cards, office supplies and other gadgets. The shop also offers MAS merchandise and useful tourist information. I can really recommend stopping by at the shop and picking up one of their beautiful items. And the best thing is that lots of books are available in English.
Which MAS exhibition stood out the most?
I usually don’t read everything when visiting an exhibition (at least I admit!), but at World Port I did! Antwerp’s growth exploded in the Middle Ages due to its location next to the Scheldt river and the port activities. This expo contains unique ship models, film footage, stories, old maps and tools demonstrating the expansion of the port and the people that made it all happen.
Explorers exported exotic products and spices to the rest of the world. Curious to know what those spices smelled like? Just stop at one the smell boxes and inhale the scents of some of these products! Little additions like these really help imagining what it was like back in the day. We finished the exhibition by writing a message in a bottle in the ‘leave your trace’. I wonder who will get to open it…What a fun way to end the exhibition!
What does it cost to visit the MAS?
The pricing, €10 per person (adults) to visit the entire museum and all its temporary exhibitions, seems very reasonable. And, if there’s no temporary exhibition, the fee is only €5 (adults) per person.
Or you can get a €2 ticket to visit the ‘exhibition of the month’ if you don’t have time to visit the entire museum.
You can order tickets online or at the ticket counter.
However, the best option is, planning ahead and visit the MAS for free on the last Wednesday of the month. You can also find these museums for free on every last Wednesday (sorry the link is only in Dutch language available).
A museum visit includes a free brochure of each exhibition and a free floor plan. I do think getting lost at this museum is impossible. The escalators in the MAS make it easy (and exciting!) to explore each level and the new view that comes with it.
Would we go back to the MAS?
YES! The building alone and its surroundings are gorgeous. Start your morning by exploring ‘t Eilandje, have a drink at one of the trendy coffee bars, and make you way towards the MAS.
The exhibitions are so versatile and I bet anyone is able to find something they’d enjoy seeing. And because the museum offers temporary exhibitions there is always a reason to come back. Besides that, it must be awesome to visit the panoramic rooftop throughout the year and discover what Antwerp looks like during the winter, spring, summer or fall season!
One of the things we didn’t try is the activities the MAS offers such as workshops, tours, and events. Simple because there were none on the particular day we went. I would definitely be interested to join a ‘Walk-and-Talk’. I think it can be very valuable to get an expert’s view and to be able to ask any additional questions (or secrets – you may be guided by the curator of the exhibition).
Tip: Visit the nearby Red Star Line Museum
The Red Star Line Museum is within walking distance of the MAS. At this museum, you take a step back in time and follow the stories of emigrants who traveled to America on the Red Star Line ships in search of a better future.