Marc Chagall’s famous Fiddler on the Roof has been scratching away somewhere else for nearly a decade, while the Stedelijk Museum was closed for refurbishment. Now he’s back home in Amsterdam.
Until today I hadn’t realised what a superb collection of contemporary art Amsterdam has had tucked away.
Now they’ve pulled it out to be proudly displayed alongside the Rembrandts and Van Goghs the tourists come to see.
It was our first day back in Nederland so naturally a bike ride was in order. But northern Europe was still waiting for spring and Mevrouw T and I were still getting over the jetlag, so we made it a short cycle, just ten minutes through the Vondelpark to the Museumplein.
The Van Gogh Museum has closed for a seven-month facelift, its treasures moved temporarily to the wonderful Amsterdam branch of the Hermitage. The remodelled Rijksmuseum will re-open on April 13th after nine years of work, so only dignitaries were being admitted for their sneak previews today.
The Stedelijk Museum was the only option. Its new wing, uncharitably known as de badkuip (‘the bathtub’), opened in September 2012. It has come in for considerable, predictable criticism, since architects Benthem Crouwell made no attempt to blend their extension into the style of original 1895 building, instead tacking their shiny creation to the back of the venerable red brick edifice.
The Rijksmuseum houses the old masters, the Van Gogh has the Impressionists and the Stedelijk Museum is the repository for Amsterdam’s modern art.
While the Stedelijk has been closed, selected works from the collection have been displayed in other locations. I’ve found these exhibitions a bit unsatisfactory. I know contemporary art is supposed to take us out of our comfort zone and perhaps it’s not the artists’ fault if I’m not hip or educated enough to appreciate its brilliance. But I’d come to associate the Stedelijk Museum with incomprehensible weirdness.
Until today I didn’t realise that the Stedelijk’s collection includes superb paintings by Picasso, Kandinsky and Matisse as well as the aforementioned Chagall. Also represented are Jackson Pollack, Mark Rothko, and Willem de Kooning; all a little bit weird in their own ways, but I can see the point.
Naturally the Stedelijk has a great collection of Dutch modern masters too, with iconic works by Piet Mondriaan, a brooding Breitner and the cheerful, colourful, spontaneous CoBrA artists, Karel Appel and Constant.
To the credit of the architects, the interior of the building works really well, with a seamless flow from the old building to the new addition.
The Stedelijk Museum may never achieve the fame of its next door neighbours on the Museumplein, the Rijksmuseum and the Van Gogh Museum, but we’ll certainly be visiting it often and showing off both the building and its wonderful contents to our friends.
For those staying any length of time in the country I highly recommend getting a EUR50 Museum Card, which gives a year’s unlimited entry to any museum in the Netherlands, including the Rijksmuseum, the Hermitage and the Van Gogh Museum.
POSTSCRIPT: These guys were playing rather well outside the Stedelijk. They were well worth some of my spare change, and a photo: