Going back in time: Daniel Gould’s 3D List, Art in Amsterdam #64


At the end of September 3D stepped into the New Stedelijk Museum. I had been anticipating the moment for about 25 years. In the late 80s, Wim Beeren, then the director, told the Amsterdam city fathers that for the Stedelijk to maintain its position as an International Art Museum it would be necessary to build a new wing...And, oh, by the way, the present building is in need of renovation work.

That was the beginning. 

The search for an architectural plan commenced. Rudy Fuchs would replace Beeren when he retired. Shortly, thereafter, a design by an American' architect Robert Ventiru would win the prize over Rem Koolhaas design and others. The cost estimate was 10 million guilders. Then, Venturi's plan was replaced by one developed by Alvaro Siza Vieira in 1996. Don't remember why, but that, too, was abandoned and a new competition was opened just after 2000.

I do remember viewing the several selections that followed. A couple did catch my eye...and I didn't get too excited becaus things progress slowly in Amsterdam, especially when it involves Dutch heritage; and indeed this new selection did just that, directly and indirectly. There even had been talk of relocating the museum to a park. 

Finally, the design proposed by the Benthem Crouwel architectural firm won the prize. I remember pondering over the scale model and someone standing with me saying, "I don't like it!" "Well," I replied, "I think it only fair to wait until its completion." 

It seemed to take forever for the builders to dig the hole; and even longer to ponder about what was behind the sheets of plastic that hid the building-in-progress from our daily scrutiny. I began to report on the result last December when the "wrapping paper" came off like that from a big Christmas gift. And it was just that. A great gift to the city of Amsterdam. 

In June, I attended the first press preview of the interior. I came away loving the building and its functional design. How it followed, faithfully, the axiom voiced by Louis Sullivan (Chicago architect, c1900) in which, he said, "Form follows function." And this is certainly true in regard to the "Big Bathtub." 

The press preview in September only helped to enamor me towards the structure more so. And there were surprises. 

I had already written about the enormity of the two new main galleries in the new wing. Huge rooms stretching nearly the length of the building; 100 meters. But, now, I marvel at an added something that had not been apparent last June and that was the fact that each gallery could be reconfigured to suit an exhibition. In the basement gallery, walls-on-wheels had been put into place creating four or five smaller galleries with a hallway emulating a moat circling them. Clever. Efficient. Practical. 

The ground floor room---and entrance---I have described as a Dutch scaled-down version of the Modern Tate Turbine Room (London). Like the latter, it is open and friendly with plenty of light even on gray days. The bookstore is located here and covers 300 square meters---I asked how many titles, but no one knew. It has been set up by and will be operated by the German publishing house and bookseller Buchhandlung Walther König. If you're looking for a book on art, design, architecture, photography or related fields, you'll probably find it here and if not, you will be able to easily order it. It will also feature postcards, prints, gifts, Dutch and international design products. 

At the opposite end is the restaurant. It is separated from the museum's entrance lobby by a door that was locked on the day of the preview. Entrance is from Van Baerlestraat. The seating arrangements and design is functional. I checked the menu and was surprised by its diversity which included croissants to tasty sounding sandwiches to "creamy" lobster bisque, steak bearnaise, hamburgers, cod, pasta and a half lobster. There are 12 house wines divided between reds, whites and rosés. They come from France, Italy, Spain, Argentina, Chili, Australia and New Zealand...But, alas, nothing from California, USofA. Pity! 

Considering the venue, the prices are reasonable and fair and comparable with most quality restaurants and coffee boutiques. Oh, yeah, there is a menu note that all ingredients are organic, when possible, and the menu  will be "inspired by national and international seasonal ingredients...and at every price point." The venue is under the operation of the Amsterdam Hospitality Company; and under the culinary supervision of "star chef" Ron Blaauw. It will be open daily from 9:30 until midnight. There are 110 interior seats, 30 seats at the bar and an additional 100 on the terrace. 

But enough about the building. After all, this is a museum of modern and avant garde art. The Stedelijk now has nearly double the exhibition space than it had previously. So I was most anxious to see how they had hung the "highlights" of the collection. And there are many pleasant surprises.

I will begin the walking tour with my entry into the Grand Old Gallery of the original Stedelijk which I entered from the upper level of the new wing. Hanging is a very fine collection of conceptual and minimalism art like Ellsworth Kelly, Jo Baer, Brice Marden, Carl Andre's 10x10 meter lead square on the floor and Agnes Martin, et al. They are all large works and have ample space to breath. 

In the East Wing you will find all your old favorites: Philip Guston, Georg Baslitz, Picasso, Matisse and more recent contemporary artists like Loes van der Horst, Dann van Golden, John Ballessari and Réne Daniels.

Willem de Kooning has a gallery to himself with four paintings hanging and three large bronze works. The NUL School is well represented with Jan Schoonhoven, Henk Pieters, Armando, Fontana and Akira Kanayama. Next to this room is a small gallery with an installation---the museum's collection has 200 installations and large scale works from the 50s---by Yayoi Kusama whose "One Thousand Boats Show"(1965) is rather spectacular. Photos of boats cover the walls and there is a plaster boat at the center filled with objects that resemble erect penises.

Edward Keinholz "The Beanery" is back on display and has been completely refurbished and the good news is that it looks as shabby as before and just the way the artist designed it. What makes it such a note worthy pieces is that it emulates and captures the tawdriness of the cheap diners that once dotted the cities of America---before MacDonalds. And the juke box plays on....(FOOTNOTE: The press release called this work one of the visitors' favorites. The museum should check into the availability of his mammoth work "Walden" which represents Amsterdam's Red Light District and was last shown, in the city, at the Amsterdam Historical Museum about two or so year ago. It would be a great addition to the collection.) 

The Dan Flavin avant garde light sculpture display, that was unveiled---and for a second time---at the Temporary Stedelijk, is now owned by the museum and will remain permanently at the top of the grand staircase. It defines the room brilliantly and beautifully. It makes it dramatic and at the same time warm. (Unfortunately, there was to be a photo of the gallery with the light installation, but becuase of technical difficulties...NO photos...Life is hard!) 

The West Wing, of the upper floor, has a room devoted to Richard Tuttle with his wall objects. Unfamiliar names like Douglas Huebler has a one room installation that was purchased in 1971. It consist of paper, gelatin, silver paint, offset print, permanent Mylar with collage and other mixed media.

Sol Lewitt's "Wall Drawing, #1084" was designed specially for the gallery where it is again hanging. Cool! It measures 17 meters to nearly five meters high. A real showstopper.

The COBRA School has a very good representation with two very large canvases, one by Constant and the other by Appel. In a smaller gallery hangs a Jackson Pollock painting from 1950. It was done just prior to the drip-paintings; and was a gift from Peggy Guggenheim.

There is a gallery filled with works on paper by Malevich and is easy to overlook. The room is off from the one displaying 11 of his paintings. There are 56 drawings dating from 1908-1931 and arranged chronologically. You could easily justify giving each drawing five minutes of your time.

The big and very pleasant surprise is the "Design Wing." Design has always been the bastard child of the museum's collection because there was so much and no room to show it. Over the years---I have been visiting the museum since 1972---we have seen glimpses of the extensive collection. In fact, I only learned how extensive it was at the opening. The curator of design was on duty and introduced herself to me and asked if there were any questions. "How many pieces in the design collection?" The answer? An astounding 70,000. And more good news, 2,000 pieces are on view. (I would later see in the press package the the total number of pieces in the museum's collection is 90,000. That works out to about 80% that is in the category "design.") 

There is a reason for that. Willem Sandberg, the director from 1945-1962 began to the design collection department in 1935, shortly after he joined the museum as a curator in 1934. What will you see? Well, there is a complete bedroom---walls and all---that was designed by Gerrit Rietveld. The area surrounding the bedroom, at the center of the gallery room, has several examples of Rietveld's furniture work.

There is also excellent examples of textile work, inlaid tile pieces, ceramic and glassware, jewelry, lots of chairs and posters as well as ordinary kitchen utensils. 

There is one iconic work in the museum's collection that is missing: Barnett Newman's "Who's Afraid of "Red, Yellow and Blue, III" As you will remember, it was slashed several times by a mentally ill person. The restoration was done in New York, but it returned to Amsterdam as a different painting. What made it such a staggering visual entity was its luminosity, the depth of red oil almost shimmered like a field of wheat moving with the wind on a bright sunny day. It was a beautiful piece and more destroyed by the restoration than by the slasher. Fortunately, it is not hanging...Hopefully, it will never hang again. But don't despair. I seem to recall that it was one of a series of five?  If so, maybe, someday, the museum can make a trade for one of those....

All in all, there is nothing I can say about the hanging of works, from the permanent collection, that is negative. The gallery arrangements and what's on the walls has been done successfully and the results are excellent.. 

Now for the new wing. A nice touch is that on entering you see hanging on an opposite wall a painting of the Queen. It was done by Luc Tuymans and is full body. 

I began at the lower level. The basement is divided into a couple of galleries and rooms. At the east end is the library. Then there is the main gallery room. But, surprise, when I walked into it I came first to a hallway that circled an island structure in the middle of the space. Barbara Kruger---who was responsible for the conceptual b/w typography that completely filled the old museum's Grand Old Gallery---is back. This time, she has did a typographical design that covers the floor and walls and circles the island. Most impressive! At the entrance you are "greeted" with this observation, "Is there life without pain?" which is lettered on the floor. 

As to the small galleries, well, Sigmar Polke has a room to himself and shows eight large paintings. Joan Jonas has a gallery with several video works that are part of an installation which includes drawings, costumes and props. Another room shows 118 A4 conceptually designed pieces; each is a typed page done in a geometric design and compliments Kruger work. The exhibition, on this level, is only for seven weeks, so hurry since it will close in early November. 

You are now ready to ascend to the upper gallery, but if you are an agoraphobic or suffer from vertigo I would suggest you take the lift because the escalator looks like its the moving staircase to heaven. And as I emerged at the top I saw a huge canvas that was eight meters wide and about 2.5 meters high with a video projection adding to its essence. It is by Matthew Lutz-Kinoy.

 It is easy to overlook, but to the right of that work there is a red door. Enter through it and you will find yourself in a large auditorium like room. Showing is a video work by Christian Frederich and is described as "hyperactive." Whatever! Great colors! 

"Beyond Imagination" is a show commissioned especially to co-inside with the opening of the New Stedelijk. Artists were asked to submit work that reflected "things that are still unimaginable today, but that may become reality by tomorrow." A total of 657 artists submitted proposals---including 3D. Twenty were selected; 3D didn't make the cut. The exhibition reflects a potpourri of styles and techniques: photography, video, ceramics, collage photography, textile, conceptual works, sculpture, etc. 

There is a catalog which could be a future collector's item. It is designed like an accordion. Paging through it, from left-to-right, you have a page that discusses each artists. Look at it from right-to-left and you have the photographic reproductions of their works. It is bi-lingual in both Dutch and English.

I received a press release some months ago in regard to a very large tapestry that would grace the new entrance lobby. My first thought was, Where will they hang it? Against the outer-wall of the old museum? Banish the thought. At the September preview, I saw a banner hanging from floor to ceiling with a Jeff Coon's image on it and thought that can't be it. Later, I stumbled on it at an unexpected place.

It covers the back wall of the restaurant and continues into the entrance lobby. It measures 31 meters wide/long and runs to a height of 14 meters. It is a b/w work titled Damask and was designed by the Petra Blaisse's Amsterdam-based studio Inside Outside. You can see it from the street which may be the best view.

The Exterior:

Before the September press preview, I was formulating questions that had occurred to me. I came up with three. One was answered about ten days before the event. I had been wondering what had happened to the monolithic Richard Serra? Had it been misplaced? Then, riding by the museum, I saw it being lifted into place. What will come as a surprise for those who would sit on the old Stedelijk's patio/garden is that Sight Point (for Leo Castelli) now appears rather diminutive. I must get use to it all over again. 

As to the other two questions, I was left hanging at the end of the presentation when no questions were taken. However, I did luck out when a short time later I saw that the architect, Mels Crouwel, was standing alone. I introduced myself and said that I was claiming coining credits for the sobriquet, The Big Bathtub. I explained that when the wrapping came off, last December, I wrote that on viewing it from below was like being one of the Lilliputians who return to Gulliver's England and check out his bathroom and stood staring up at his Big Bathtub. Well, he immediately put me in my place by saying that when the scale model had been unveiled, at the studio, someone said, "It looks like a Big Bathtub" and that's how everyone connected to the project began to refer to it. 

I also took the opportunity to ask why that towering industrial-like cage structure was where it was and could there not been an alternative design that would have allowed for a full and unobstructed view of the new wing from Van Baerlestraat. He was evasive and never answered the question. What he did say was, "It will be used for displaying banners and maybe some light works." Hmmmmmm!

The third question had to do with the museum's budget. I would later email the public relation's director for details. The new director had submitted a budget subsidy request of 15.6 million euro; and this had been approved by an independent study conducted on behalf of the municipality of Amsterdam as "being entirely reasonable and realistic..." The government reply was to offer 11.7 million euro; that's over 25% less. Also, while the city owns the building, the museum is responsible for its maintenance. As a result of the budget cuts, a spokesperson said, "We will make cuts in all areas, and funding [read: outside sources], especially for large and expensive exhibitions, will prove to be all the more important."  Oh, the horror, the horror...

Well, Amsterdam now has a world class building which puts it in the same league with other major international art museum...But with an inferior budget to mount shows that would and should reflect this status. And one must show empathy for the new director...The subsidy cut is analogous with being given a new car, then, a few weeks later, the giver says they want the wheels back. Go figure. 

And speaking of the director, Anne Goldstein, she has been vilified by some members of the Dutch media and art community I have been told. Admittedly, she is aloof and somewhat inaccessible, but I think that that is part of the job description for a museum director. As to what their comments were, I can't say, unfortunately or fortunately, since I'm not able to read Dutch, I don't know what the vitriol was all about. What I do know is that up until now she did not have a museum. The two Temporary Stedelijks were just that. The new wing would contain the ventilation apparatus so the original Weissman building could only be use sparingly. And I liked the fact that many rooms were empty, during this phase, because I could concentrate on the results of the renovations. So what was there to criticize? And, I'll give her this, I have seen her at openings. The only other previous director I would see regularly, at openings, was Gijs van Tuyl. 

Speaking of "job descriptions" was it included that after Ms Goldstein accepted the position, the building contractor would go bottom-up, bankrupt. Then, just as the opening was approaching the city fathers' said, "Hey, were cutting your first year operating subsidy!...Oh, yeah, welcome to Holland, madam; an enjoy your stay!" 

Please, let's give her a chance to take chances, make mistakes and maintain the Stedelijk's reputation in the international art world. That's only fair. 


There are two that have been published for the opening of the New Stedelijk Museum. One is titled, Stedelijk Collection HighlightsIt is arranged by artist and in alphabetical order. Each page has a reproduction by the artist and liner notes describing their history and other aspects of their art. There is to the right of the editorial a notation as to how many works by the artist is in the museum's collection. 

The text describing each piece is easily accessible in that it is conservative in its use of art terminology. Each short essay is a mini-story of the work of art illustrated and tells the story, of the piece, intelligently.

I like the typographical layout. Across the top of each page is a headline, but it has been cut in half. Cute! The font size is large and pleasing and makes it an easy read. And the layout of text is in balance with the imagery. Very good paper (115 grams) and of high quality. A perfect coffee table book. 

222 pages, paperback, full color illustrations, 19.95 euro: ISBN 978.94.6208.023.2 

The other publication is titled Stedelijk IN THE POCKET is a must for any lover of the museum. It is a very short and concise history of the Museum and includes several quotes from previous directors. You will be surprised at what you will learn. This was said by Willem Sandberg in 1938, "Only Dutch art was collected, with the focus being on the Hague School and Breitner. The lower level floor was an old pharmacy and there was a lunatic asylum with a variety of straight jackets and even a delivery room. I felt that all that garbage did not belong in the museum." And as Karel Appel was painting himself into a corner when he was doing the old snack room, Sandberg remarked, "Karel, aren't you going too far?" (April 1951) 

And it includes critical comments by the Dutch media over the years: "No expense or effort has been spared to display the garbage of this real 'ZERO.' It is essentially a pathetic and miserable spectacle. What has been set down, piled up, and hung on the walls of some of the SM's rooms resembles the work produced by seriously disturbed individuals in occupational therapy." (De Typhoon, 1962) Yeah, well, it had been a lunatic asylum. 

Nono de Wilde (Edy's widow) told me once that the two of them would go to New York and visit artists' ateliers (c 1960) like Jasper Johns, Lichtenstein and Warhol. She said, "Edy introduced the Pop School to Europe!" And what did it get him? This from the Elseviers Weekblad, May 4th 1968, "A wall of Marilyn Monroe portraits, next to and above each other, with and without color, flowers and cows' heads, there's nothing else to see." (A footnote. In 1985, I thanked Mr De Wilde for the Grande Parade. I said I had viewed it four times. He responded by saying, "I wish the Dutch critics had seen it through your eyes!" 

There is a section, in the book, for each director. You will come to know the Stedelijk like you never knew it before. One section, at the end, has about 60 pages of reproductions of some of the outstanding pieces in the museum's collection. Several people, nearly 30, were asked to name their favorite piece and to comment on it. An interesting read.

This is the perfect cocktail table book; and unlike most art books published with that thought in mind this one does not cost and arm and leg: 9.95 euro; 272 pages, paperback, ISBN: 978.90.5006.184.1 

FOOTNOTE: After writing the above, I went back for one of the New Stedelijk's "Public Programs." "Every month," according to the press release, you can attend a performances, a film, something labeled "Do It!...Evenings are large-scale interactive events highlighting brand new developments in contemporary art and design." Music, a forum, collection close-ups, theory lectures and debates and every Friday "gallery talk" which features artists, curators, and art critics giving guided tours of the collection. Hey, folks, it's NOT the old Stedelijk. This new version is visitor friendly whether you are an adult, an art professional or only a kid. We are in for an exciting future. 

The Public Program that I attended was "Dutch Masters, 21st Century." The program consisted of short films, produced by the Mondriaan Foundation," of noted Dutch artist---Co Westerik and Lisa Boerstra, as two examples, in the act of creating and talking about their work. Unfortunately, the films were only in the Dutch language with no under titles. This is an international museum, a significant percentage of visitors are from other countries and English is the world's second language. But, maybe it had to do with the cut-backs.

I wandered through the museum once again. But moving faster since I did not have to take notes. I was on a bus man's holiday. There was a trio performing avant garde sounds in the Dan Flavin gallery---damn, the more I see this room the more I like it. Next to it is a cafe/coffeeshop. There wasn't an empty seat. In fact, the museum was crowded and there were lines before each of the three ticket sellers. That's nice!

On the ground floor, I saw two ladies manning the old information booth at the original entrance. I asked if there was a new function for this location? "Yes, we welcome groups here...they won't have to wait in line!"

The new Stedelijk's Museum raison d'etre has changed dramatically. It has the makings of being a great cultural hub for Amsterdam...But only if there was the money...