Closed for business on Amsterdam's Museumplein
Why part of the Stedelijk, most of the Rijksmuseum and all of the Van Gogh Museum will be shut too
By Martin Bailey. Museums, Issue 227, September 2011
Published online: 21 September 2011
Visitors to the Dutch capital next year intending to visit its three leading art museums will need to plan their trip carefully—or they might be disappointed to find the Van Gogh Museum shut, part of the Stedelijk closed and only the Rijksmuseum’s Philips Wing open, its main building a construction site. While the directors of the three institutions on Amsterdam’s Museumplein sort out their building woes, they also have budget cuts to manage.
“It sometimes seems as if everything that could have gone wrong with the Museumplein building projects has gone wrong,” said Wim Pijbes, the Rijksmuseum’s general director, quickly adding: “We have a bright future ahead from 2013.”
The main building of the Rijksmuseum has been shut since 2003, apart from the Philips Wing. The Stedelijk, the country’s most important collection of modern art, was shut in 2004. Although its original building reopened last year, its much delayed extension on Museumplein will not be fully finished until late next year. The Van Gogh Museum has just announced it will have to shut for six months from October 2012 to comply with tougher fire regulations.
Already reeling from their building problems, the Rijksmuseum and Van Gogh Museum now face cuts in government funding. In June Halbe Zijlstra, the Dutch culture minister, slashed cultural expenditure by €200m, from €950m (The Art Newspaper, July/August). While the national museums, which face a cut of around 15%, have not fared as badly as the performing arts, we have learned that the Rijksmuseum will have to reduce its hours, opening at 10am instead of 9am.
The original 1885 building housing the Dutch national collection of art was badly in need of upgrading to improve facilities for rising visitor numbers and to restore the Pierre Cuypers-designed museum to its original splendour. In 2000, the Dutch government agreed to fund the project and Spanish architects Antonio Cruz and Antonio Ortiz won the commission. Shortly before work was due to begin, asbestos was discovered, forcing half the main building to be closed in April 2003 (with the remainder shutting in December that year). At that time, work was due to be completed by 2008.
Tortuous planning problems developed, particularly over a cycle route that runs through a passage in the museum, which the then director wanted rerouted. Planning and permit issues took years to resolve. There were then difficulties over the tendering, which delayed the contract with the Dutch company Royal BAM. The main building work did not begin until the end of 2007, almost five years after the closure. Reopening is now scheduled for the first half of 2013, possibly in April—exactly a decade after the doors were shut.
Pijbes has described the series of delays as “a scandal” (The Art Newspaper, January 2009). Total costs are now estimated at €375m, with most coming from the national government and some from corporate sponsors.
In the meantime, the museum’s Philips Wing has remained open, with masterpieces from the Golden Age collection on show, but only a tiny part of the collection is on view there. The number of visitors before the closure was 1.1m: last year the Philips Wing attracted 900,000 (25% Dutch, 75% international). After its reopening in 2013, the Rijksmuseum is hoping for 1.7m visitors, possibly up to 2m.
Housing the city’s collection of modern and contemporary art, it faced similar problems to the Rijksmuseum. Its 1895 building, designed by Adriaan Weissman, was run-down and lacked modern facilities, and was also too small. An extension was proposed in the 1980s, but plans by Robert Venturi and then Alvaro Siza were rejected. The building was forced to close in January 2004 as it no longer complied with fire regulations.
Later that year Benthem Crouwel Architects was commissioned to build the extension. At that point the museum, like the Rijksmuseum, was expected to reopen with a new extension in 2008. Technical problems soon emerged, particularly with the foundations, which in low-lying Amsterdam were in waterlogged ground. The dominant feature of the extension was an upper structure for galleries and offices, which was nicknamed the “bathtub”.
In early February this year the main contractor, Midreth, went bankrupt and work was halted. The contract was next awarded to VolkerWessels at the end of March. The latest problem occurred on 15 May, when football fans climbed onto scaffolding, causing several hundred thousand euros of damage and delaying completion by several more weeks. Ann Goldstein, the Stedelijk’s director, reopened the original 1895 building in August 2010, after restoration had been completed. It now houses temporary displays from the collection.
The total cost of the Stedelijk project, funded by the municipality, is likely to total around €120m. Although part of the new extension, which faces the centre of Museumplein, is expected to be opened in the first half of 2012, the whole project is not likely be finished until the end of next year.
In the years just before the closure, the Stedelijk attracted around 300,000 visitors. This is expected to double after the extension is opened.
Van Gogh Museum
Until now the museum has avoided the major building problems that have plagued its neighbours, but it has just been announced that it will have to close from October 2012 until March 2013 to deal with security and safety issues. Work will be undertaken to bring the building up to higher safety standards.
During this period, the museum will show 75 Van Gogh paintings and a few drawings at the Hermitage Amsterdam, an outpost of the Russian museum. These will be presented alongside a loan of impressionist and post-impressionist pictures from St Petersburg. The deal should bring in revenue to compensate the Van Gogh Museum for the loss of half a year’s ticket sales and revenue. Although the project costs have not been disclosed, it could reach €5m, which the government will have to pay.
The Van Gogh Museum’s original building, designed by Gerrit Rietveld, opened in 1973, with an extension by Kisho Kurokawa added in 1999. The extension has no entrance in the Museumplein and visually “turns its back” on the square. Axel Rüger, the director of the Van Gogh Museum, plans to build a new entrance with facilities in the Museumplein.
During the past few years the Van Gogh Museum has been the country’s most popular, with 1.4m visitors in 2010 (10% Dutch, 90% international).
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