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BeNeLux: What to See and Where to Be this Spring

Each year, wealthy collectors, museum bosses and the world’s top dealers converge on the Netherlands for The European Fine Art Fair (TEFAF) in Maastricht. This year’s event, running from 10–19 March, will offer more than 30,000 works from classical antiquity to the 21st century, and while organisers have launched autumn and spring satellites in New York, the Maastricht edition remains the flagship of this prestigious fair, drawing 275 dealers.

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FROM GOOD HOPE, AT THE RIJKSMUSEUM: A PORTRAIT FROM PIETER HUGO’S 2016 SERIES 1994, DEPICTING CHILDREN BORN AFTER
THE YEAR SOUTH AFRICAN APARTHEID WAS ABOLISHED. © COLLECTION RIJKSMUSEUM, DONATION BY MR. PIETER HUGO

Many of the fair’s visitors from abroad fly in and out of Amsterdam (about a two-and-a-half-hour trip by car or train to Maastricht), and many reserve a day on either end of the trip to explore the Dutch capital. The Vermeers and Rembrandts at the Rijksmuseum are always a draw, but don’t miss the museum’s fascinating exhibition entitled Good Hope: The Netherlands and South Africa from 1600, examining the complicated relationship between the two nations (17 February–21 May). The Stedelijk Museum will be featuring the work of Dutch street photographer Ed van der Elsken (4 February–21 May), who is known for his gritty, sexy black-and-white photos of bohemian life in 1950s Paris.

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ED VAN DER ELSKEN’S VALI MYERS, PARIS, 1954, AT THE STEDELIJK.
© ED VAN DER ELSKEN. NEDERLANDS FOTOMUSEUM

For accommodations, consider staying at the Conservatorium, close to the Rijksmuseum and the Stedelijk. Designer Piero Lissoni has incorporated original features from this 19th-century former bank building into an expansive contemporary space. Its glass-enclosed lobby-lounge is perfect for a coffee break, a drink or a meal at its airy brasserie.

About 80 kilometres from Amsterdam, Rotterdam is one of Europe’s most dynamic and design-conscious cities. It is known for landmarks such as Ben van Berkel’s Erasmus Bridge and Piet Blom’s Cube houses, as well as cultural hot spots ranging from the Rem Koolhaas-designed Kunsthal museum to the Nederlands Fotomuseum.

The five-star Art Deco Bilderberg Parkhotel lies near Museumpark, a cluster of institutions that includes the Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen, which houses an extensive collection ranging from Brueghel to Warhol.

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THE BILDERBERG PARKHOTEL IN ROTTERDAM. 

For an immersive experience, head over to the Witte de With Centre for Contemporary Art, where Canadian mixed-media artist Judy Radul has her largest solo show yet (10 February–30 April). Using multi-camera installations, Radul will be guiding visitors through an exploration of the poetic and social significance of doors, windows, entrances and exits. After the show, enjoy the lively atmosphere of the nearby Bazar restaurant with its eclectic Indian, Persian, Turkish and Tunisian fare.

From Rotterdam, it’s about a two-hour drive to Maastricht on the Belgian border, 145 kilometres away. From here, it is tempting to visit Brussels or Bruges. Yet Ghent, about 180 kilometres from Maastricht, combines the cosmopolitan vibe of Brussels with the medieval charm of Bruges, while also buzzing with a contemporary creative scene.

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FROM GOOD HOPE, AT THE RIJKSMUSEUM: AN 18TH-CENTURY ILLUSTRATION BY ROBERT JACOB GORDON,
MADE DURING AN EXPEDITION TO AFRICA. © COLLECTION RIJKSMUSEUM

Ghent’s greatest artistic treasure is probably Jan van Eyck’s recently restored altarpiece, The Adoration of The Mystic Lamb, in the Gothic St Bavo Cathedral. For Flemish masters old and new, visit the Museum voor Schone Kunsten, located in the wooded Citadelpark. There you will also find the always stimulating Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst. Its retrospective of the LA-based James Welling (28 January–16 April) is an opportunity for European audiences to discover an artist whose experimental photographic works may be best known in the US.

An intimate home base can be secured at the four-star Hotel Harmony, centrally located in Patershol, Ghent’s oldest district. The hotel’s 19th-century merchant-house facade belies the contemporary design within. Similarly, the exterior of Pakhuis, an old iron-frame warehouse, hides a friendly brasserie, given a theatrical flourish of fancy ironwork by designer Antoine Pinto. Its superb menu has local dishes with modern twists.

You may find some dazzling treasures in Maastricht, but you might also discover real gems not so far way. 

 

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