Stedelijk Museum

Rem Koolhaas Rehangs the Stedelijk

By Claire Wrathall
Rem Koolhaas at opening of Stedelijk Base

Rem Koolhaas at the opening of Stedelijk Base (2017). Photo: Fabian Landewee

Amsterdam - Five years on from the opening of Benthem Crouwel Architects’ “bathtub” extension, the Stedelijk has unveiled the final phase of its transformation, this time at the hands of the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas.

Where formerly the permanent collection hung in what Koolhaas describes as the “small rooms” of the original 1895 building, and the futuristic wing was used for temporary exhibitions, the new configuration has switched functions. Now 700 works from the collection can now be found in the upper-floor gallery and basement of the extension – hence its new official name: Stedelijk BASE.

“The Stedlijk was my university really,” says Koolhaas, who was personally involved in the design. It is credited to his research and design studio AMO, rather than to OMA (for the Office of Metropolitan Architecture), the practice he co-founded in 1975.

Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam Netherlands

Stedelijk Museum view of the original building (2012). Photo courtesy of Stedelijk Base.

Koolhaas’s admiration for the Netherlands’ foremost museum of Modern and contemporary art goes back to his youth in the late 1950s and early 60s, when, he recalls, he would visit it almost daily. “My entire aesthetic sense was determined by it,” he recalls. “At that time, it must have been the most adventurous museum in Europe.” He cites an exhibition in 1962 called Dylaby, a “dynamic labyrinth” of installations or “environments” by artists such as Luciano Fontana, Robert Rauschenberg, Daniel Spoerri and Jean Tinguely, in which the public was encouraged to interact. “So it was exciting, 50 years later, to be active here.”

Stedelijk Base, interior view

Installation view Stedelijk BASE, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2017). Photo courtesy of the Stedelijk Base. Photo: Gert-Jan Van Rooij

Visitors are not invited to move the art by blowing on it, as Tinguely did with his balloon installation in Dylaby, but Koolhaas’s scheme is nevertheless a refreshing and original way to present art. Working in collaboration with OMA/AMO’s exhibition designer Federico Martelli, who spent six months “embedded” at the Stedelijk, the idea has been to create a kind of labyrinth by means of freestanding unpainted grey steel screens of varying heights, each a slender 15mm thick (yet weighing a combined 180 tonnes; beneath the pale wooden floor lies a concrete underpinning that is eight metres deep). These are placed at oblique angles to one another, and the spaces between them – some narrow, some open – have been configured to prompt close looking, or draw visitors to complementary or contrasting works, to offering surprising perspectives. “Perhaps it’s easiest to look at it in the form of an urban layout, with places, plazas, squares,” says Koolhaas. There is even a narrow staircase between two back-to-back screens that can be climbed for an aerial view.

Installation view Stedelijk BASE, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Installation view Stedelijk BASE, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2017). Photo courtesy of the Stedelijk Base. Photo: Gert-Jan Van Rooij

The works – mostly paintings, but also sculpture and design – have been grouped according to the “individual or collective stories they tell,” tracing the development of art in the 20th century. “Instead of a linear narrative, we’ve created a web of connections.” So the corner devoted to the Russian avant-garde – a dense salon-style hang that includes 11 works by Malevich – is flanked by displays of Bauhaus furniture and graphic design on one side, and works by artists associated with De Stijl, from Gerrit Rietveld’s Red Blue Chair, 1918–1923, to paintings, figurative and linear, by Mondrian, on another. Elsewhere there are what Margriet Schavemaker, the Stedelijk’s head of collections and research, calls “canonical clusters” of works from various key movements: a display of Colour Field paintings near a wall of De Koonings and a Jackson Pollock; Arte Povera backed up against American Pop Art and so on.

Installation view Stedelijk BASE, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Barbara Kruger's Untitled (Past, Present, Future) installation. Installation view Stedelijk BASE, collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam (2017). Photo courtesy of the Stedelijk Base. Photo: Gert-Jan Van Rooij

The outer walls of the 1,340 sq m space are hung with a chronological sequence of late 19th- and 20th-century art, beginning in the 1880s with a view of Mont Sainte-Victoire by Cézanne and Van Gogh’s portrait of Augustine Roulin. (An upper gallery, linked by lift, stairs and an escalator via Barbara Kruger’s immense immersive wall wrap, Untitled (Past, Present, Future) shows works from 1980 to the present.) “There’s no prescribed route,” says Schavemaker. “If you lose yourself in the labyrinth, you can always get your bearings by looking out at the timeline on the perimeter walls.”

The Stedelijk Museum is open 365 days a year

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