AMSTERDAM - There are quite a few exciting museum expansions and renovations coming up in the near future. The Judd Foundation in New York City has been given an overhaul and is due to open in June, and the St. Louis Museum of Art has a David Chipperfield-designed building in the works opening the same month. Come December, there’s the completion of the multi-year, $350 million Rafael Viñoly–designed expansion of the Cleveland Museum of Art.
The newly renovated Rijksmuseum has been ten years in the making.
But no project eclipses the scale of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, reopening 13 April. At a cost of $500 million dollars which took more than a decade to spend, it's renovation gives a new meaning to the phrase Dutch Treat. It may be the largest museum building project in history, one expected to be visited by some two million people a year.
Over the winter, the museum’s director of collections, Taco Dibbits, told assembled journalists at a press lunch about the overhaul, which was designed by the Spanish architects Cruz y Ortiz. One of the most interesting aspects is that it’s not really much of an expansion. They remodeled the forbiddingly Gothic-looking museum largely along its original lines circa 1885, getting rid of the intervening renovations and restoring some of the delightful decorative elements. Two indoor spaces were combined and then sunk further into the watery ground—Amsterdam’s sea-level position is one of the reasons the project took so long—to create a massive atrium space that now welcomes visitors.
The museum naturally gave the most care to its mind-blowing collection of paintings from the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th century—some of the most beloved artworks in the world. In most people’s minds, the Rijksmuseum exists to house Rembrandt, Johannes Vermeer, Frans Hals and a handful of other names; the rest of the collection, as good as it is, counts as an appetizer. Those headliner works have been completely reinstalled and integrated with decorative arts pieces, and in this, the Rijksmuseum is very much on trend. That has been the direction most major museums have gone in the last ten years.
Rembrandt’s The Night Watch remains the centerpiece of the Rijksmuseum’s collection.
Only Rembrandt’s The Night Watch maintains its old position, in the center of the building. Widely considered the pinnacle of the Golden Age—the apex of an apex—there’s a certain justice in its staying put, ever watchful.
PHOTOS: COURTESY OF THE RIJKSMUSEUM.