Plunging into Amsterdam's Art World

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Going on a short press trip to Europe is never a walk in the park. It is more like a headfirst plunge into the local art scene: exploring, tasting, inhaling it 24/7. And that's exactly how it was during my recent visit to Amsterdam.

The day started early in the morning when the journalists left Maastricht and, three hours later, arrived in Amsterdam. After a short stop in the hotel to drop our suitcases, we were rushed to the Rijksmuseum to tour the nearly completed renovation of its famous 19th century building. This renovation has lasted more than 10 years and one hopes that next year, visitors will be able to see Rembrandt's Night Watch, along with other masterpieces, returning at last, to these beautifully restored, historic galleries.


Next on our agenda was a visit to the Stedelijk Museum, only a short walk away. This is another major Amsterdam museum that is currently closed because of an ambitious renovation and expansion that has taken much longer than initially anticipated. The journalists were greeted by director Ann Goldstein, who took us on a spirited tour of the museum. If her name sounds familiar, it is because she was senior curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art here in Los Angeles, before moving two years ago to Amsterdam.


This coming autumn the Stedelijk is scheduled to unveil its world famous collection of modern and contemporary art in its fully renovated historical building and in its striking new pavilion, designed by the Dutch firm Benthem Crouwel Architects. I was especially taken by the panoramic view of the city one can glimpse from the terrace on the top floor of the new building. In the tightly packed city of Amsterdam, where space is at a premium, it is a luxury to have a new museum building with spacious galleries and a romantic bird's eye view of the whole city.


After six hours exploring the nooks and crannies of these two museums, we went outside. It was getting dark but our adventure continued. Next on our schedule was a boat cruise through the city's canals. And let me tell you, it was a guilty pleasure: leisurely and tasty with plenty of good food and libations. When, close to midnight, we returned to the hotel, it was a welcome conclusion to an 18-hour long, illustrious and exhausting day.


Most of the journalists left the next morning, but I stayed for another day. My friends arranged for a driver to take me on a day trip to Otterlo to see the Kröller-Müller Museum, with its famous collection of Van Gogh paintings and drawings. The museum building is nestled inside of a beautifully landscaped sculpture garden.


It was my first trip there and I was duly impressed by the unexpected and inspiring juxtaposition of the choice works by 19th and 20th century artists. I couldn't help but wonder what Van Gogh would say about being shown a few galleries away from well-known contemporary Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang, whose stuffed tigers, pierced with thousands of arrows, fly through the museum's largest gallery. And if the name of this Chinese artist rings a bell, it is because the exhibition of his explosive gunpowder drawings is scheduled to open in a few days, here in Los Angeles at the Museum of Contemporary Art.


Rushing back to the city, I was able to squeeze in a short visit to the Hermitage Amsterdam just before it closed for the day. There was a splendid exhibition of 17th century Flemish paintings from the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, Russia. I was surprised how many top quality works by Rubens, Van Dyke and Jordaens, Russian curators were willing to share with the Dutch public. But after all, the connection between Amsterdam and St. Petersburg goes way back to the time when Peter the Great fell in love with this Dutch city and decided to build a new Russian capital in the image of Amsterdam, the most prosperous city in Europe at that time.

To see images discussed in Art Talk, go to Talk.

Banner: View of Amsterdam from the terrace of the new pavilion at the Stedelijk Museum. Photo by Edward Goldman