Titled 'Looking Forward' Ann Goldstein looks back at her first year at The Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
As we prepare to enter into the third month of 2011, there is much to look forward to, starting with the fact that the doors to the Stedelijk Museum’s beloved oudbouw will open again on March 3. With the public opening of Temporary Stedelijk 2 (TS2), the museum’s interim programming will continue with a full line-up of collection displays, artists’ projects, public programs, performances, educational initiatives and a new public service: a bookstore. In August 2010, when the museum reopened the doors for the first time in seven years in its beautifully renovated, yet unfinished, historic building, we welcomed over 95,000 visitors, many coming to the museum for the first time. As we look forward to Temporary Stedelijk 2 with great anticipation, we remain deeply appreciative of this opportunity to further develop a renewed public face for our great institution during this interim period and of the extraordinary response of our audiences, who demonstrated that they value the vital presence of the museum in their lives.
The challenges that face the Stedelijk Museum remain profound, and while it can be easy to be discouraged by the ongoing travails of the construction process, it is especially critical—now, more than ever—that this institution continues to take charge of its own destiny and makes a great future for itself, the future we all want and need this institution to have. As I recently marked the first year of my tenure as its director, I am convinced that, with sound and appropriate planning, the great future we envision is achievable. And for the Stedelijk Museum, the future is now. Our dedicated staff and supervisory board are working hard to ensure that the Stedelijk Museum is alive, active, ambitious, artist-centered and open for its publics.
Twelve months ago, I entered a closed museum. Greeted by an angry, demoralized community that sorely missed that museum, their museum, I found that anger completely justified; in fact, it was reassuring. If people no longer missed the museum, then it would truly have been over. So we still had a chance. But what to do? While everyone was asking for my long-term artistic vision for the Stedelijk Museum, my focus was on a simple, more immediate goal for this institution: open. I wanted dignity and pride to return and to take action.
Though I had just walked in the door, I considered the museum’s closure nothing less than catastrophic and felt that it was my responsibility to own this situation and do whatever was possible to secure a guaranteed date for the delivery of a complete, fully functioning museum facility by its owner and commissioner, the City of Amsterdam. I needed to learn how things worked in a new system and culture, and I needed to act to resolve the problem—both at the same time and with equal urgency. The Stedelijk Museum is a major cultural institution, a public museum with a renowned collection of 90,000 works, including icons from the history of modern and contemporary art and design. During its lengthy renovation and construction, it had literally disappeared from public view; its continued absence had become a threat to—and I do not say this lightly—the very life of this great institution.
I expected it would be difficult, but it was actually fairly devastating to confront head-on the profound effects of the systemic and reputational damage that this great institution has endured. At first it was very hard to accept that the museum, as a lessee, did not have any leverage in the construction process. Immediately upon my arrival, we tried unsuccessfully to explore possibilities to get the oudbouw to open and operate independently. Could we build a separate facilities plan to climatize the oudbouw? If those questions were challenging, it is because I was open to considering all solutions, however radical, that might allow us get this institution back on its feet and open. If there was a solution that would enable us to have a fully-functioning facility where we could get down to our core business of showing our esteemed collection and mounting and presenting history-making exhibitions that bring works from around the world to Amsterdam, it needed to be seriously considered.
Such lengthy delays have caused damage to the public, the city of Amsterdam’s international profile and the museum itself that is immeasurable. It remains urgent that a guaranteed date be provided for the delivery of finished building in order for the museum to plan its future exhibition schedule and resume all of its core functions immediately upon reopening. Today, a confirmed date for the delivery of the completed facility eludes us. From the museum’s perspective in terms of future planning, our grand reopening will not take place in 2011. As this construction project moves into its eighth year, it is important to proceed with a balance of urgency and care. The Stedelijk Museum will make concrete plans for its reopening based on substantive information we receive concerning the construction process and its targeted completion. It is critical that the date we announce is realistic and achievable. So while we move past the recent bankruptcy of the building contractors and efforts continue at the civic level to ensure that the project remains on course, it is also crucial that the museum and the public are no longer victims of this situation but partners at every stage of this process.
Last year, I welcomed the opportunity, offered by the City of Amsterdam as the owner of our buildings, to open the doors of the beloved oudbouw and conceived the Temporary Stedelijk as a means to bring art and people back into that building for the first time in seven years. We were able to put this museum back where it should be—in people’s lives. The Temporary Stedelijk moved from conception to organization in four months. We entered a beautifully renovated but still unfinished building in which the public services (entrance desk, restaurant, and auditorium, for example) had all been removed for relocation to the new building. We improvised a full museum program and operation: two exhibitions, as well as a full roster of educational activities and public programs, including lectures, symposia, performances, gallery walks and workshops, with events taking place several times every week. The Temporary Stedelijk’s café was newly built in the space (now a gallery) where the restaurant used to be; the temporary auditorium is situated in the space (also, now a gallery) where there used to be an auditorium; the entrance desk was newly built to reanimate the old entrance; and the education rooms are located in gallery spaces.
All of this was quite intentional on our part. When the construction project is finally complete, the visitor experience will be significantly different, starting with the entrance through the new wing. However, I envisioned the Temporary Stedelijk as an opportunity for our visitors to re-inhabit a building they were totally familiar with and in so doing, to participate actively in the transition and transformation of this institution.
Since the opening of the Temporary Stedelijk, more than 95,000 people have walked through the doors of the historic building for the first time in seven years. It has been an emotional experience for almost everyone—coming into a place that is familiar yet also not “fully there,” a place connected to the past yet clearly well on its way to a bright new future. This is actually a remarkable moment that I, as its new director, had hoped to mark for those who grew up in this building and also for those walking through the doors for the first time. And now the international artists-in-residence at the Ateliers and at the Rijksakademie, as well as the participants in the Appel Curatorial Program, have an open Stedelijk Museum to visit. People who follow contemporary art are starting to put Amsterdam back on their itineraries. The most important museum for modern and contemporary art in the Netherlands is open.
The success of the Temporary Stedelijk is something of which I am proud. I am also deeply grateful for the support of the entire museum staff, supervisory board, the generous donors, and the City of Amsterdam, all of whom made it happen. The Stedelijk Museum should be an ambitious international institution within Amsterdam, where what is done is historically necessary. An international museum celebrates, embraces and engages its local community, while also reaching out and building connections to international audiences—including those residing here in Amsterdam and those visiting from abroad. Those are the characteristics that distinguished this institution in the past and that are critical for its future.
I believe in the invaluable role of art and artists in the culture, and that we as a museum must do our best to make it possible for our publics to appreciate the value and meaning of artists’ work and contributions to the culture. It is our responsibility to turn their confusion into curiosity. I came to the Stedelijk Museum through my love of art and artists, and my deep love of museums. I consider this institution part of my heritage. Not only did I draw upon its extraordinary collection as a curator, I also heard about its rich holdings, its legendary directors and its reputation as a leading institution of the international avant-garde long before I had the opportunity to visit. The Stedelijk Museum was a truly international museum in that it was meaningful not only locally, but within an international arena. I enjoy that I come from Los Angeles, the city of Edward Kienholz’s The Beanery, one of the icons of the Stedelijk’s collection.
I have talked about the Temporary Stedelijk as a moment of transition and transformation, a state of between being a building and a museum. This isn’t filler or excuses; this is making history and producing culture. With its focus on collection, Temporary Stedelijk 2 is another important and audacious milestone in our active transition “from a building to a museum.” I have felt that the greatest success of the Temporary Stedelijk is that it will be missed, but also that the greatest failure is that it will be missed. I am committed to continuing the Temporary Stedelijk program as long as it is necessary and will not end it without a permanent program replacing it.
Twelve months ago, the Stedelijk Museum was closed and invisible; today, the museum has been brought back to life by art and visitors. The Temporary Stedelijk has been a true team effort with the contribution of the entire staff. I am grateful to and inspired by the dedication of my colleagues, who are so proud to have reoccupied their museum. I feel it is important for all of us consider how a museum can function, renewing and building new relationships. I know we are on our way. That is our mission of service, both to the public who has sorely missed the museum and to the public we want to welcome for the first time.
As I said when the first Temporary Stedelijk program opened in August: the future is now. We should be proud of this institution, and we must all work together to ensure that it fulfills its mission and achieves the greatness that it deserves—that its owners—the public—deserve.