The latest sculptural exhibition at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam—eight works by English contemporary artist Richard Long—playfully makes art from the museum’s lawns and rocks from the river Maas, open to everyone to enjoy (but not to tread upon).
Opening on 26 May and running until 29 October, Richard Long in the Rijksmuseum Gardens is the tenth in a series of free-of-charge, sculptural exhibitions outside the Netherlands’ national museum, which has been made possible by the museum’s largest-ever donation of €12.5m.
Six new trimmed grass and stone artworks standing in the shadow of the monumental 19th-century building by Pierre Cuypers look conversely—according to Rijksmuseum director Taco Dibbits—modest. “Ten years ago we had the first garden exhibition, and this year’s is a very unusual, an almost modest one by Richard Long,” he says.
“He talks about them as traces you leave behind in the landscape, and he immediately said he wanted to work with grass… it brings him thoughts, emotions, holding on to this primitive material. Without this donation we could not have made this exhibition.”
Long, 78, who is known for making simple art by walking in landscapes, creating photographs and books to document his interventions, says that he was in some ways the “last of the amateurs” making art with his own hands. At the Rijksmuseum, he has mown grass into shapes, created works by laying stones in shapes, and inside the museum’s atrium and great hall, recreated a great circle and snake of stones from Swiss and Indian rock on the marble floor.
“I’ve always made everything myself because that’s my pleasure,” he says. “I get pleasure from lifting all the stones, walking thousands of miles in beautiful landscapes, camping at night. My work is like a self-portrait of me in the world I live in. I’m not interested in making a monument—the works will leave no trace.”
In the meantime, though, there are strict instructions for gardeners to maintain the grass at a specific height and spray against weeds if necessary, while the rocks on the floor of the Rijksmuseum are being watched intently by security guards for their “trip” risk.
For Long, the invitation to work in the Rijksmuseum’s gardens takes him back to his first-ever work in landscape. “In 1966, I made a recessed circle in my neighbours’ garden; I had these ideas to work into the land, most people had gardens, so it seemed obvious to work it into someone’s garden,” he recalls. Fortunately, he adds, the neighbours did not mind.