A lot has been said about the renovation projects of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam the last decade or so. It was a long, much-discussed subject in the capital. But it looks like the dust has finally settled with Stedelijk Base, with which the museum for modern and contemporary art presents their history of modern art in a whole new fashion.
This article was written for Hello Amsterdam Magazine, edition March-April 2018.
In 2012, the newly renovated Stedelijk Museum opened its doors to the public after years of construction work. This reopening happened four years later than planned, and the costs turned out to be 20 million Euros higher than the budget allowed. So imagine the surprise when newly-appointed director Beatrice Ruf showed her dismay on the way the audience experienced the museum. According to her, something needed to be done to present the collection in a better fashion.
Ruf turned to Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and exhibition specialist Federico Martelli for advice. They came up with a transformation of the interior of the museum. The old part should welcome the newest art in temporary shows, while the new wing (also known as the ‘bathtub’) would offer a fresh approach to the permanent collection. And so it happened. Part of the museum closed to the public again and would stay that way for nearly a year.
A new introduction to modern art history
The result is Stedelijk Base. It is the name of the new way Stedelijk Museum presents its collection of modern art and design to the public. On display are around 700 artworks from 1880 to present day. Artists such as Mondrian, Malevich, Rietveld, Koons, and Dumas are accounted for. With an approach that is “engaging and unorthodox”, Stedelijk Base showcases artworks in a whole new fashion, seemingly fitting for the age of social media.
The exhibition display presents the collection as an open-ended route in a landscape of specially-designed freestanding, ultrathin walls. This unique feature was made possible through the innovative application of steel, by working together with steel-manufacturer Tata Steel. The screens carry sheets of white plasterboard to which the artworks are attached.
Chronology versus hierarchy
The exhibition follows a chronological order of developments in art and design, with works of Van Gogh and Cézanne at the very beginning. Within this order, you can find certain thematic zones. Rem Koolhaas: ‘’We did not want to create a rigid circuit for visitors. They’ll have the freedom to explore in different directions, and choose their own route, as adventurous as circulation through any city.’’
It results in a presentation that is breaking away from the hierarchy that is usually followed in art exhibitions. Even though the chronology is there, Stedelijk has boldly combined artworks and design objects. Imagine seeing a Barnett Newman’s painting right next to an Eames chair. The presentation is making surprising connections, which might be dazzling to some. But then again, that is what great cities usually do.
Stedelijk Base. Now on show. Stedelijk Museum, Museumplein 10.