Over the years visitors have left a number of Amsterdam guidebooks on my bookshelf. Out of curiosity, I recently perused the entries for the Stedelijk, Amsterdam’s modern and contemporary art museum, which has been closed for renovations for nearly a decade. One tells me the displaced museum “will reopen in the original building” in December 2009; another offers the even more suspect “closed until mid-2006.” The misinformation ends here. Let the fanfare commence as I tell you now what these misguided books could not: the Stedelijk will reopen – with Queen Beatrix in attendance! – on September 22, 2012.
I grew up in Boston so I’m familiar with stretched construction deadlines. While the Stedelijk renovation is not exactly Amsterdam’s Big Dig, it did leave a gaping hole – if not in the city’s physical landscape, then in its cultural one. Just as Boston’s traffic was rerouted onto provisional overpasses, in recent years Stedelijk exhibitions have found makeshift accommodation in various places throughout the city, mostly notably in an old post office near the Central Station, and more recently in the unfinished shell of its soon to be permanent home.
So, welcome back, Stedelijk! In addition to reacquainting us with its sorely missed permanent collection, which embeds a unique local history within the usual twentieth century narratives, the opening will also feature the temporary exhibition Beyond Imagination. This exhibition brings together newly commissioned work by some twenty Dutch and international artists living and working in the Netherlands. Later in the season the museum will open the widely anticipated Mike Kelley retrospective Themes and Variations from 35 Years, which will then travel to Paris and the United States.
Paulien Oltheten, It's my imagination, you know; Courtesy Fons Welters.
Whatever you do, don’t let the Stedelijk reopening outshine everything else vying for your art-gazing attentions. After a characteristically anemic summer, each opening colors in its own little piece of Amsterdam’s art map, often charting courses across an ever-greater art geography. Paulien Oltheten’s solo show at the consistently strong Fons Welters, for example, will recount the Dutch photographer’s witty and occasionally surreal photo and video observations from her recent travels in Burma, Israel, and Russia.
Look out as well for Russian Chto delat? member Natalia Pershina Yakimanskaya (Gluklya)’s show at Akinci and Italian Giorgio Andreotta Calò’s perception-challenging audiovisual installation at Smart Project Space. Slewe will feature British sculptor Adam Colton’s polyurethane foam “blobs” (which are more sophisticated than their moniker suggests) and Diana Stigter will present a video installation and a sound piece by intrepid Finnish video and performance artist Pilvi Takala.
It’s tempting to make connections between these diverse September openings, but the scope of the new exhibitions is largely a reflection of a prosperous arrangement between the global and the local. The only narrative that can ultimately be grafted onto the proceedings in good faith is one chronicling the perpetual movement of ideas, objects, and people. It’s not a copout; it’s the way things work.
Coincidentally, it’s the Stedelijk Museum’s project space, the SMBA, that perhaps best relays this message with Time, Trade & Travel, a collaborative exhibition alongside the Nubuke Foundation in Accra, Ghana. The institutions asked a group of international artists from the Netherlands and Ghana to explore globalization and transnationalism, taking special interest in how they reflect and are reflected in the arts. Taking a critical standpoint, participants make visible links between the countries, highlighting a flow of people and objects that often reveals global power imbalances and uncomfortable histories. While examining these challenging historical relationships, the show also underscores the complexity of the contemporary art landscape as it fosters physical and conceptual bonds the world around.
Museums are important; they canonize stories about art, making them history. Many of the artists in the Stedelijk’s early, modern, and contemporary collections got their start in Amsterdam galleries, art schools, and residencies. Armed with this knowledge, don’t wait for the Stedelijk ribbon cutting to see great art this September. Jump the gun and welcome back the city’s restored art landscape by celebrating the diverse agents in its history-in-the-making art present.
(Image on top: Photo of new Stedelijk Museum building, designed by Mels Crouwel; Photo: John Lewis Marshall.)