The new national art museum, known as MUŻA, has been infested with mould, forcing the temporary removal of various works of art.

More than 60 works of art, some of them prestigious, have been removed in a preventive measure as attempts are made to stop the spread of the harmful fungus, which has been described as “very serious”.

MUŻA was inaugurated in December 2018 following a €10 million investment from national and EU funds. 

The state-of-the-art museum at Valletta’s Auberge d’Italie holds Malta’s main collection of art. 

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“This should not have happened in a normal well-managed museum,” an art expert told Times of Malta on condition of anonymity.

“The fact that it has happened and that many works of art have had to be removed shows that the infestation has spread and that those responsible took very long to notice,” he added.

Some officials fear that the outbreak has spread more rapidly than what has been established so far, and may be affecting some three-quarters of the entire national collection.

How harmful is mould?

Mould is a major hazard in museum and art collections. It is normally the result of high temperatures, poor air circulation and dim light. 

Once it germinates, mould normally spreads like wildfire.

MUŻA sources said that although the new building has been armed with expensive climate control systems, it seems that humidity levels were not being monitored.

“In normal circumstances, the curator of a new museum or his assistants are obliged to make daily rounds of the collection and detect any sign of mould on the works of art,” art experts said.

This should not have happened in a normal well-managed museum

“The fact that the infestation spread shows that either the rounds were not being done or that those responsible were not noticing the mould, which should be easily detectable for experts.”

Questions sent to the Justice and Culture Ministry to confirm the problem and to state who was responsible for the possible lack of monitoring of the situation remained unanswered by the time of writing.

Heritage Malta – the government agency responsible for MUŻA – has also remained tight-lipped.

Can visitors still go to the museum?

In a short statement on its Facebook page, MUŻA said that “a considerable number of artworks have been removed from the MUŻA galleries as a temporary preventive conservation measure”.

“This is dictated by the fact that this is the collection’s first cycle in the new environment of a different building which has gone through a major overhaul.”

But there was no mention of the mould infestation. 

The museum also announced a reduction of the admission fee to the galleries. 

“We apologise for the inconvenience being caused and will provide updates from time to time,” the museum said. 

Announced in 2011, the MUŻA museum was planned to be the government’s flagship project for Valletta on the occasion as the European Capital of Culture.

However, works on the project fell significantly behind schedule and the museum was only inaugurated at the end of last year.

Some of the planned halls have yet to be opened.

Ivan.Camilleri@timesofmalta.com