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The Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam

If you’ve been to Amsterdam at any point in the last ten years, then you missed this museum. In fact, there’s a whole generation of guide books that don’t even mention this spot!

Closed since 2003 for remodelling, the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam finally re-opened this past September. (Stedelijk translates to ‘Municipal’ Museum.)

This €127 million dollar project, which was rushed to complete at the end after much public demand and pressure to get the darn thing done, was mostly funded by the City Council of Amsterdam.

Old and New – the new facade over the old building (Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam)

THE modern, contemporary and design art museum of Amsterdam, this lovely 1895 building on Museumplein, now has a modern facade (affectionally nicknamed “The Bathtub” by the locals and the press), a fancy cafe, additional exhibit space, and much controversy.

A very expensive project, the city obviously expected that the Stedelijk will help with its goal to place Amsterdam square in the top 10 destinations of Europe.

So how did it do?

You want my good or bad opinion first?
Let’s start with the good – I don’t mind the ‘Bathtub’ and the interesting element it adds to the Museumplein skyline, nor the massive panels of glass that support it and flood the entrance with light.

One of my favorite Piet Mondrian pieces (of course you recognize it!)

I also really liked that the collection is heavy on Amsterdam connections: Major names of the modern art world who have either worked in Amsterdam, drew inspiration from Amsterdam – Piet Mondrian (who developed his famous ‘look’ here in Amsterdam and designed pieces for the English Church in the Begijnhof), Willem De Kooning, and one of my favorites, Charley Toorop. They also have an excellent collection of the works of Russian artist Kazimir Malevich.

There are of course the big names too: Cezanne, Warhol, Van Gogh, Pollock, Karel Appel.

And I also liked that the contemporary selection on display was not all about the ‘shock’ factor.

Well, not all.

A favorite Toorop: Self-portraint with Hat and Veil

That takes us to the bad…
If you’ve been to the Tate Modern in London, if you’ve been to the Vancouver Contemporary Art Gallery, if you’ve been to Madrid’s Museo Rein Sofia… then what you feel when walking through this collection is that you are seeing some good pieces in a small town museum.

Those museums have done a great job of blending architecture, collection exhibit, digital and video, and more into a total experience. The Stedelijk misses that somehow.

And the Amsterdam connection with artists was barely noticed unless you searched out the badly placed name tags and information plates.

Row, row, row your boat… One of the more ‘contemporary’ pieces

This ultra-modern, new museum has no digital interaction inside (even their website is basic… looking a bit like what I would have designed for my classroom back in the 90’s using rudimentary html code. Sorry… harsh, I know… but it is what it is.) The only place in the museum where there was some cool and smart tech usage was in the cafe where the waitresses take your order on Ipods.


But in the museum itself… only one room had a computer station (that I found at least). Not that a museum NEEDS computer stations everywhere… but this is SUCH a cool chance to do some very fun things to hook in a whole new generation.

Oh well.

Old Museumplein reflected in the new Stedelijk windows

Their Facebook page is cool :)

So should you go? YES! – still a good museum to go through (especially while the Van Gogh Museum next door is closed for renovation.) And still a worthwhile experience, especially to see some of their decorative arts stuff.

Just be prepared to stand in line – partly due to the newness of the museum and the curiosity awakened by the press dashing against the rocks the new American curator – the first non-Dutch, non-male curator of the museum. But the long lines are also partly due to the funky way they’ve set up the entrance (I’m wincing even as I write this.)

And… the apple pie in the cafe is pretty darn awesome :)