Monday, August 24, 2015

Day 12: The Stedelijk Museum

After spending a couple of days in the Dutch Golden Age at the Rijksmuseum and the Frans Hals Museum, it was time to come into the modern era by touring the Stedelijk Museum of modern and contemporary art. Stedelijk means municipal: the municipal museum. The original museum was built in the late 19th century, purposely for art. By the 21st century, it was inadequate for the collection, and a fire hazard as well. It was closed in 2003 and completely renovated, and a new building was constructed for visitor services, including space for special exhibits. The museum re-opened in 2012. We had toured it in 2003 and were interested to see the changes.

The new wing is shocking. It not only doesn't fit in with its surroundings, it doesn't even look like a building: it looks like a bathtub. It was designed by Benthem Crouwel Architects, who explained that they wanted a structure that looks like it came from 2012. The main part of the building is made of a molded synthetic material that is usually used for the hulls of boats, and similar things.
The overhang creates a wide shady area around the building. Here's an internet grab that shows both the old and new buildings.

Stedelijk Museum
Internet grab

The tub sits up on legs; under it are the entrance hall, bookshop and restaurant, in a space surrounded on three sides by glass walls. What it lacks in grace, it makes up for in functionality; the expanded museum is a great place to show art, and it has a very friendly and convenient atmosphere.

The Bathtub meets a brick wall
iPad photo

We liked their café and ate lunch there a couple of times.

Captain Dan at the Stedelijk café
iPad photo

Jan at the Stedelijk café
Photo by Dan L. Smith

The entrance is decorated by an amazing and beautiful work of art: a broad loom wool carpet that covers 3 walls of the tall entrance hall, more than 2100 square feet.

Petra Blaisse & Marieke van den Heuvel
Inside Outside, 2012

Another custom wall decoration was created for one of the galleries by Sol LeWitt, one of my favorite artists. LeWitt frequently took a simple geometric motive and tried it in four logical variations. In this case, he used broad bands of intense colors and arranged them horizontally, vertically, and diagonally in both directions. He called these works 'wall drawings,' but they are actually applied with acrylic paint. I believe the colors have a different order in each variation. The same gallery had a very interesting sculpture by LeWitt; similarly, he combined variations of triangular shape.

Sol LeWitt, 1928-2007
Wall Drawing #1084, 2003

Sol LeWitt, 1928-2007
Complex Form #70,

This sculpture by Carl Andre has a similar aesthetic to LeWitt's wall drawing: repeated identical elements in a geometric arrangement. The same units could be used in different arrangements, like toy building blocks. The red cedar is very attractive in itself.

Carl Andre, b. 1935
Bloody Angle, 1985

A similar aesthetic motivated this sculpture by Richard Long. Long always uses the circle as his shape; the circles always consist of fairly uniform samples of a certain type of stone, randomly arranged. In the example below he gathered these samples from a mountain range in Italy called the Dolomites. It seems remarkable that he was able to get so many similar slabs. There must be quarries in that region. Did he hack them out himself? Probably quarry men followed his instructions.

Richard Long, b. 1945
Bluestone Circle, 1978

Patterns formed by repeating a simple unit were an important part of sculpture in the 20th century. Some artists used ready-made objects as the repeated units. A Dutch artist known as Armando noticed the aesthetic potential of tires.

Armando, b. 1929
Car Tyres, 1962

In this amusing piece, Dutch artist Henk Peeters used plastic bags filled with water; from a distance it has a glamorous sparkle.

Henk Peeters, 1925-2013
Akwarel, 1966

An interest in practical objects in the real world also motivates Claes Oldenburg. His work always features one practical object that has been recreated in an impractical form.

Claes Oldenburg, b. 1929
Saw - Hard Version II, 1971

The painter Ellsworth Kelly has no interest in the real world. He is concerned only with abstract aesthetic values. He is the perfect minimalist, examining one shape at a time, for its own sake, in a simple color scheme. The canvas below is shaped like a left triangle; the hypotenuse is black.

Ellsworth Kelly, b. 1923
White Curve I, 1972

An important pioneer of this analytical approach to painting was Russian artist Kasimir Malevich.

Kazimir Malevich, 1879-1935
Yellow Plane in Dissolution, 1918

Somehow, the idea of painting scenes from the 'real' world that had dominated painting for the previous centuries lost its appeal for many artists in the 20th century. Those who sought out subject matter, tended to look at the media. Roy Lichtenstein embraced the aesthetic of the comic book.

Roy Lichtenstein, 1923-1997
As I Opened Fire, 1964

The Stedelijk also has a trove of paintings from the late 19th and early 20th century. Here are two of the most important ones. They are rather soothing after all this abstract thinking.

Paul Cézanne, 1839-1906
La Montagne Sainte-Victoire, c. 1888

Vincent van Gogh, 1853-1890
Kitchen Gardens on Montmartre, 1887

Art of the 20th century doesn't offer the pictorial richness or meaning of older art, but there is something cleansing and calming about all that analytical thinking. You can't moon around saying, "Oh isn't that pretty"; you have to think about the paintings, you have to concentrate your mind on particular values, you have to engage with the art. Our day at the Stedelijk was very refreshing.