Amsterdam's Museums Reborn
Photography By Thinkstock
It's been a big year for Amsterdam. In an art-loving city that's well-known for its array of fantastic museums, 2013 marks the first time in more than a decade that its biggest stars have all been open at once. The resulting excitement is tangible across the pretty city, so much so that it's all being referred to "Amsterdam's next golden age"—a nod to the first one some 5 centuries ago, when painters like Rembrandt put Amsterdam at the forefront of the Northern Renaissance.
The undisputed superstar of Amsterdam's museum rebirth is the gorgeously overhauled Rijksmuseum, long the city's leading art showcase and home to some of the world's best known masterpieces. After a $500 million renovation 10 years in the making, the new Rijksmuseum opened in April 2013, and has been drawing massive crowds ever since. The palatial 125-year-old building has simultaneously been returned to its original architectural glory and completely modernized, with its artworks now arranged chronologically to provide better historical context. The only piece to remain in its original heart-of-the-action location is Rembrandt's "The Night Watch," arguably the museum's most famous work (Vermeer's "The Milkmaid" being the other prime contender).
Apart from its incomparable collection of Dutch Renaissance masterworks, the Rijksmuseum also houses notable later pieces from the likes of Van Gogh and Monet, as well as major holdings of Delftware, sculpture and local archaeological artifacts. The Philips Wing, which served as the museum's mini-exhibition space during its long renovation, is now being rejuvenated, and will reopen in Fall 2014 as a home for temporary shows. The first, Modern Times, will present 150 works from the museum's own impressive collection of 20th century photography. Looking ahead, in early 2015, the Rijksmuseum will present Rembrandt: The Final Years, the first-ever comprehensive overview of the artist's work from 1652 until his death in 1669.
Just across Museumplein is the city's other fully metamorphosized powerhouse museum, the Stedelijk. Originally opening in 1895, the Stedelijk gradually grew into its role as Amsterdam's modern and contemporary art and design repository, showing important works by the likes of Matisse, Van Gogh, Warhol, de Kooning and Kandinsky. In 2003 the Stedelijk closed its doors for a major overhaul, then finally reopened to the public in Sept. 2012 with a bold and somewhat controversial architectural upgrade: the bathtub-shaped Benthem Crouwel Wing. Inside, the expanded Stedelijk now has 85,000 square feet of exhibition space (double its former size), and features quirky elements like an enclosed escalator that envelopes the rider in audio art. Always excelling in temporary exhibitions, the museum is, through Feb. 2014, presenting its extensive collection of works from Russian avant-garde pioneer Kazimir Malevich, to be closely followed by the largest-ever retrospective of the work of acclaimed Dutch interior designer Marcel Wanders, and a major show from Canadian "near-documentary" photographer Jeff Wall.
The third of Museumplein's trio of stellar art attractions, the Van Gogh Museum, didn't need as drastic of a facelift as her older sisters—but she did recently undergo a quick 7-month nip-and-tuck, which wrapped up just prior to her reopening this past May. A celebration of one of the Netherlands' most brilliant artists, the Van Gogh Museum houses more than 200 of his paintings as well as numerous drawings and letters. In September the museum also revealed a surprise new artwork—or rather, it revealed that following extensive research, it's been confirmed that a painting previously pegged as a fake ("Sunset at Montmajour") is in fact not only the real deal, but was created at the peak of the artist's genius in 1888. Through Jan. 12 that piece is on display as part of Van Gogh at Work, an exhibition tracing the master's development as an artist over the span of a decade.
Across town, and across the waterfront from the city's iconic Centraal Station, in the rapidly gentrifying Amsterdam-Noord district—is the striking new EYE Film Institute. Formerly known as Filmmuseum, the institute's EYE name is a nod both to the visual nature of film and the location of its futuristic new digs on the River Ij (pronounced like "eye"), where it relocated in 2012. With 4 cinemas screening new, classic and obscure art films throughout the week, EYE also houses an interactive cinema museum called Panorama in its basement. There's also a large space for temporary exhibitions, where the work of American animators, the Quay Brothers, is highlighted through March 9, 2014.
Visitors anxious to take in all 4 of these rejuvenated museums should pick up an I amsterdam card, available in advance online or upon arrival at several locations across town. The card, which comes in 1-,2- and 3-day versions for 47, 57and 67 euros, includes a discount on Rijksmuseum admission, and free entrance to the Stedelijk, the Van Gogh and the EYE, as well as other local favorites like the Rembrandt House, the Hermitage Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Museum.