The new MAS Museum (Museum aan de Stroom - Museum on the River) aims at more than just becoming one of Antwerp's landmarks symbolising the city: it has set itself the ambitious task of embodying almost the whole capillary network of history and culture interconnecting the world in the shape of a single museum. The motto of the museum is: Antwerp in the World and the World in Antwerp. The unique holdings span eight different time zones, all the continents, countries and regions linked with the city in the past, present and future. The permanent exhibitions, housed in five floors of the building, are dedicated to four universally relevant subjects on which every one of us must have focused in our reflection at some point of our lives: power, prestige and symbols; life and death; world port and metropolis. The collection comprises 470 000 exhibits, combining the former collections of the Ethnographic Museum, the National Maritime Museum, the Folklore Museum, MuseumVleeshuis, as well as the Paul and Dora Janssen Art Collection.
The MAS building was designed by the Neutelings Riedijk Architects firm from the Netherlands. The waterfront edifice is set in the Eilandje district which used to feature Hanseatic warehouses in the 16th century. The new building conceptually retains the feel of a storehouse - this one housing cultural artefacts instead of goods. 60-metre tall, the structure consists of ten gigantic Indian sandstone 'Lego blocks', stacked to form a single spiral tower interrupted by a giant staircase or a vertical panorama 'boulevard'; the six-metre tall glass panels offer a different view of Antwerp from each corner of the museum while also making the whole building transparent and revealing glimpses of the interior to passers-by. The temporary exhibitions hosted by the museum are dedicated to contemporary art, among other things. The square in front of the museum features Dead Skull, a 1600-square metre mosaic by the Antwerp-based Luc Tuymans, arguably the most famous Belgian contemporary artist today; incidentally, it is his first site-specific piece to remain permanently on view. Inside, each floor is designed as a journey within a journey, opened by musical installations by the composer Eric Sleichim.
The museum also hosts the t'Zilte Restaurant, run by the two Michelin-starred chef Viki Geunes; the Storm Cafe and a roof terrace in the ninth floor of the building. The MAS inaugurational exhibition under the title of Masterpieces in the MAS: Five Centuries of Images in Antwerp, featuring works by the likes of Jan Fabre, Peter Paul Rubens, Jan van Eyck and Luc Tuymans, is running through 30 December 2011.