Discover the neglected contemporary art museums of the Netherlands
I started the list in Amsterdam, at the Stedelijk Museum. Although it is the country’s best-known source of contemporary and cutting-edge art, it is still overshadowed by its super-famous neighbours. Next, we head south to Rotterdam, an industrial-leaning city better known for its architecture than its art. The choice here, Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen, combines the two in a revolutionary and breathtaking way. Heading to The Hague, the new destination on the list is the Voorlinden Museum, a testament to how a private collector can create a public destination. Finally, we descend to Tilburg, about 90 minutes south of Amsterdam in the province of North Brabant, where the TextielMuseum lovingly honors its industrial past while looking far ahead to the adjacent TextielLab.
Although the Stedelijk is the most important museum of modern and contemporary art in the Netherlands, it is overshadowed by its more famous neighbors in Museum Square. At the Van Gogh Museum and the Rijksmuseum you will almost always find lines of people waiting to enter. That’s not the case here. Even its name, which translates to “municipal museum,” downplays the significance of the Stedelijk.
But if you step into “the bathtub”, so nicknamed for its oblong addition protruding from the square, which was added to the original 1895 building a decade ago, you’ll find a heady mix of modern masterpieces and experimental work.
A current series, “POST/NO/BILLS”, mixes history and graphics around the historic staircase of the museum and in the arches of the corridor. The current broadcast of the series is “Sophie Douala – Follow the Black Rabbit” (until December 31). Douala, born in Cameroon, raised in France and living in Berlin, creates trippy and colorful designs punctuated by dark, self-reflective videos that use current events as a backdrop.
The Stedelijk’s permanent collection contains around 500 art and design objects dating from 1870 to the present day, presented in three categories. The museum was also an early supporter of Dutch design duo Drift and has recently acquired more of their lighting fixtures and materials.
Upcoming, “Anne Imhof – YOUTH” (Oct. 1-Jan. 29) features the German visual and performance artist, who will place a sound and light installation in the nearly 1,200 square meter lower level gallery of the Stedelijk. “Bad Color Combos” (October 22-March 5) is an overview of recent work by French-Moroccan artist Yto Barrada, including film, textiles, photography and sculpture.
Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen
Billed as the world’s first publicly accessible art depot, aka storage space, this recently opened architectural stunner in Rotterdam contains some 151,000 objects from the Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, located next door. The museum, which opened in 1849, is closed for renovations until at least 2029.
Before you take a look at the sprawling properties inside, outside you’ll see your surroundings and the skyline reflected in the mirrored facade of the curved building, perfect for selfies.
In the building’s atrium, you can gaze through glass at the six floors of the depot, accessible by stairs and a clear elevator. While not all of the art here is contemporary, the overall look certainly is, as are many of the highlighted pieces. Most of the works of art are stored in rooms with huge windows, which you can enter with a guide. Other works are cleverly displayed in showcases placed at eye-catching angles. You feel like you are in a monsoon of art and design coming from all directions. It’s overwhelming in the best way.
During the free guided tours, you can enter a storage space to see works hung on racks or stored on pallets, in boxes or on shelves. Some are displayed often, while others are rarely seen. During the working week, you may also see art restorers working behind windows, and you may occasionally have the opportunity to ask questions about their projects.
Once you’ve absorbed as much art as you can, check out the charming tree-lined rooftop and restaurant, where you’ll be treated to a panorama of Rotterdam.
Pick a warm, sunny day to visit this private museum and gardens in Wassenaar, just northeast of The Hague, where nature, art and architecture come together.
The museum, which opened in 2016, was founded by Dutch art collector and industrialist Joop van Caldenborgh. Set in a 100-acre nature reserve, it features a private permanent collection and rotating temporary exhibitions with a backdrop that is both old and new. The grounds include walking paths, gardens, sculptures and a 20th century country mansion, where the restaurant and terrace are located.
The elongated building of the museum is designed to attract light from all corners. The 20 galleries are lit by natural daylight, while a glass roof incorporates indirect LED lighting.
Several of the favorite permanent works here are huge and demand interaction.
“Swimming Pool”, designed by Argentinian concept artist Leandro Erlich for the Voorlinden, is causing a stir with its optical trickery. When visitors look into the pool, they see other visitors – clothed and dry – walking on its floor. (The “swimmers” enter on the lower level of the museum.) It’s the people who make this experience so fun.
Continuing the holiday theme is ‘Couple Under an Umbrella’, one of Australian sculptor Ron Mueck’s oversized, hyper-realistic human figures. A shirtless old man in a bathing suit is lying under an umbrella, his head on his wife’s lap. They are crafted with incredible precision, right down to the wrinkles and the hair.
On a more meditative note, “Open Ended” by American artist Richard Serra is a huge work of six vaulted steel plates molded together to form a maze. A walk through it is both mysterious and calming.
In addition to works from the permanent collection, current and upcoming exhibitions include “GROUND”, a major retrospective of British sculptor Antony Gormley (until September 25) and a retrospective of Italian artist Giuseppe Penone (October 8 to January 29).
TextielMuseum and TextielLab
If a textile museum evokes rattling wooden looms, huge spools of cotton thread and elementary school field trips, you’re not totally wrong. But today, this dynamic destination in Tilburg brings together textile design, art, fashion and innovation, with heritage at its heart.
The building itself blends past and present. The museum is located in a former textile factory built in the 1860s by a manufacturer of woolen fabrics. The latest addition, in 2008, extended the main building with a striking glass entrance. Another redevelopment is planned for the next decade.
The future is buzzing in the textile laboratory, located inside the museum. Here, fabric innovations are born through collaborations with staff and a multitude of Dutch and international designers. In fact, chances are that anything you see made by a Dutch designer who makes smart use of textiles was executed here. Visitors can wander through much of the workspace, where staff members are on hand to demonstrate and explain the weaving, knitting, laser, tufting and embroidery techniques employed today.
The museum also explores the industry’s past, particularly in the permanent “Woollen Blanket Factory 1900-1940” exhibition. The exhibit recreates the activities of a textile factory from 1900 to 1940, including spinning and weaving looms driven by a steam engine built in 1906.
Temporary exhibitions often focus on sustainability and research. “To Dye For” (until November 13) explores the world of textile dyeing, from its origins to current practices, as well as its effects on people and the environment. “Secrets of making #2 – Artists and designers in the TextielLab” (until June 4) is a behind-the-scenes look at the creative processes of 10 makers who have recently worked in the lab.
The museum also has a colorful cafe and a beautiful shop, where many textiles designed and made in the TextielLab are on sale.
Daniel is a writer based in the Netherlands and Florida. His website is bydianedaniel.com.
TextielMuseum and TextielLab
Open Tuesday to Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, noon to 5 p.m. About $12.50 for adults, about $4 for ages 13-18, and 12 and under free.
Open daily, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. About $19.50 for adults, about $8.50 for ages 13-18, and 12 and under free.
Depot Boijmans Van Beuningen
Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. About $20; 18 and under free.
Museumplein 10, Amsterdam
Open daily, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. About $20; 18 and under free.
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