Some might call Wim Pijbes a glutton for punishment, but he seems to enjoy the challenge of bringing a museum to life. After overseeing the ten-year, €375m renovation of the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, he surprised many when he left the national museum in July for what he calls a “start-up”. The Museum Voorlinden, which opened on 11 September, presents highlights from the 10,000-strong collection of the chemicals millionaire Joop Van Caldenborgh within a country estate in Wassenaar, north of the Hague. It is the largest private collection in the Netherlands.
Bucking the trend of starchitect-designed private museums, Van Caldenborgh selected the Rotterdam-based firm Kraaijvanger to build the institution. But inside, the collection is full of stars, including works by Damien Hirst, Richard Serra and Ellsworth Kelly, who is also the subject of the inaugural exhibition.
The Art Newspaper: Joop Van Caldenborgh was previously reluctant to open his own museum. What changed?
Wim Pijbes: He discussed donating his collection to Dutch municipalities, especially the Hague and Rotterdam. But the donation would have been huge, maybe too large to incorporate in one of the existing museums. He’s now 75, and in the past few years, private museums have been popping up all over. Above all, he can decide how he thinks art should be exhibited.
What attracted you to make the transition from the Rijksmuseum?
I was at the Rijksmuseum for eight years during the complete transformation of the building as well as the institution. You’re never ready to say it’s ready, but after [the reopening in 2013] I found that a kind of cycle was fulfilled. There were offers from other places worldwide and at the Museum Voorlinden, where I was on the board, we were discussing the profile of a new director. I thought it was a dream job.
What makes the Museum Voorlinden unique?
The museum is on a nature reserve in Wassenaar, on the coast. It’s one of the largest private estates in the Netherlands, about 80 acres. It’s a start-up museum; with a small staff [of nine], everybody’s doing everything.
What are the strengths of the collection and the opening displays?
The collection starts with Van Gogh but is mostly 20th-century works. It’s growing rapidly. In depth we have works by Damien Hirst from the very early days, Antony Gormley and Martin Creed. We are planning a Martin Creed exhibition in 2017. We have some large permanent works by Richard Serra, James Turrell and Ron Mueck. There is also a large group of works by Zero artists.
There has been a boom in private museums in recent years. Is there a risk of reaching a saturation point?
Private museums are not something new. In the Netherlands, there have been some private museums in the past 20 years and they are doing well. Not only is the number of museums growing, the number of visitors is also growing enormously. So far, there is room for more.