The thing with the Stedelijk Museum is you invariably get lost. You wander from room to room, trying not to leave anything behind, and - just after you have finished inspecting a Malevich or walking across a Carl Andre - all of a sudden you're dodging some cabinets with a mysterious jewel collection inside, or beholding a series of iron design objects. You might be on a six-room video installation roll and then seamlessly transition into another show featuring the museum's latest acquisitions. The map they give you at the entrance – with colors, too, in case you're too lazy to read numbers and captions – is of little help, since you can't really enjoy the show while looking at a piece of paper.
Nam June Paik, TV-Buddha, 1974, video-installation, 160 x 215 x 80 cm; collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Courtesy Nam June Paik Studios
As confusing as it is, exploring the Stedelijk collection along its several conflicting axes is also an inspiring experience. You can think of the building as a single organism, one that rejects a linear, didactic route. It pushes you lightly through its design selection and into the viscosity of modern painting, right on Yves Klein's blue sponges. As you're introduced to the dangers and ambiguities of television by Nam June Paik's self-indulgent Buddha, Paul Chan's projection prepares you for the American pop-wasteland lying ahead in pieces by Mike Kelley and Cady Noland.
The museum's temporary status puts you in a strange position. On one hand you're walking through a white canvas, a self-displaying selection of historical artworks, most of which echo other shows you might have seen in the past. There is no particular thematic vision or curatorial statement guiding you; you're a child on the back of a giant, suspended. On the other hand, the collection is arranged into a chain of patterns, assuming constellations of meaning that reflect its own patient, rationalizing nature. The perfect example of this is the meta-exhibition documenting two ground-breaking Stedelijk shows from the 60s, Bewogen Beweging and Dylaby, where Jean Tinguely and other important artists turned the whole place around, making it a dynamic labyrinth and a downright crazy experience for the visitors.
Bruce Nauman, Seven Figures, 1985, neon light, 127 x 457 x 7 cm; collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam; c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2011
The Stedelijk is an organism, I was saying. A pulsating heart pumping its ventricles empty and then full again, like the disappointment of walking into a huge room with nothing inside, and then fighting your way through a crowd of tourists lingering in front of a Willem de Kooning piece. An expanding stomach, contracted and relaxed, digesting the changing of light – as in the sharp, tangled neons of Bruce Nauman's orgy, opposed to Dan Flavin's diffused macro installation in the hall.
Dan Flavin, untitled (to Piet Mondrian who lacked green) 2, 1986, green fluorescent light, four sections around the perimeter of the skylight: two sections, 24 ft. (731.5 cm) wide; two sections, 52 ft. (1585 cm) wide; Stephen Flavin, New York; Courtesy of David Zwirner, New York)
The next Stedelijk will probably better resemble a living creature – it kind of looks like a giant whale – but who knows if its meanders will be as intricate and porous, if you'll be losing your way as easily. By the time it will be ready the collection might become just one of the offerings of the museum, one in a series of exciting, transversal narrations and possibilities. Until then, though, let's do it like Piero Golia, whose disorientating specular film loop was conceived in the museum's confusing corridors. Let's allow its fluctuating mnemonic configurations inspire us.
~Nicola Bozzi, a writer living in Amsterdam.
(top image: Donald Judd, Untitled,1989, Aluminum and stove enamel, 150.5x750.5x165 cm; Collection Stedelijk; Courtesy Judd Foundation, Licensed by VAGA NY c/o Pictoright Amsterdam 2011.)