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Museum extravaganza in Madrid

Expansion will end the era of 'two faces' - the public collection versus the stockpiled 'stash.'

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Three of Madrid's leading museums are linking arms, in a manner of speaking, to increase their appeal to visitors and tourists. The Prado, Reina Sofia, and Thyssen-Bornemisza museums have each embarked on ambitious renovation and expansion that, along with improved pedestrian access, promise to raise the Spanish capital's cultural profile.

"This is a nationwide project to improve all of Spain's museums," says Marina Chinchilla, deputy director of the body that manages Spain's public museums.

Madrid joins other cities that have created, or are in the process of building, unified museum districts. The Culture Ministry is overseeing the project, which involves three separate architectural firms. The government will contribute 188 million euro (about $245 million) to the project. The city has agreed to create a wide, tree-lined path from the Thyssen to the Prado and the Reina Sofia, which is expected to be completed some time next year. When finished, the Paseo de Arte, or Art Walk, will be located along the Paseo del Prado, part of the city's major north-south artery. It will make the area more pedestrian-friendly.

Ambitious museum complexes are popping up around the world. The move is toward bigger and better facilities and amenities, including exhibition space, restaurants, theaters, gift and book stores, and offices. Other European sites include Berlin's Museum Island, London's Museum Quarter, and Amsterdam's Rijksmuseum.

In total, the Madrid renovations will add about 700,000 square feet for display space and visitor amenities. Most important, the larger space will enable the museums to display a greater number of works that until now have languished in storage.

The goal, says the government, is to create more space for the collections that had to wait to be displayed as temporary exhibits.

The first stage of the Art Walk launched last June, when the 16-gallery Thyssen Museum enlargement opened with 200 paintings that the Baroness Carmen Thyssen-Bornemisza and her late husband, Baron Hans Heinrich, had acquired since 1993. Many of the Thyssen paintings unveiled, including works from Fragonard, Corot, and Picasso, have never been part of a permanent exhibition. The new collection unites 17th-century Flemish work with an array of 19th-century North American paintings.

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