Whether you are an art lover or you don’t know your Van Gogh from your Vermeer, Amsterdam truly is a blank canvas these days.
And visitors looking for something different from what one might consider a typical trip to The Dam will certainly be spoiled for choice when it comes to contemporary art offerings.
Of course, no trip to the city shouldn’t be complete without enjoying the tourist hotspots like the Anne Frank Museum, savouring the Heineken Experience or stopping by the likes of the Rijksmuseum, the Van Gogh Museum or the Stedelijk Museum, but the fact independent galleries and canalside studios have sprung up all over the place to perfectly complement the established heavy-hitters showcasing centuries of art history should not be overlooked.
The city is bustling all year round, but I visited the Dutch capital during the sixth annual Amsterdam Art Weekend – and it’s fair to say there’s no better time than that to sample Amsterdam’s growing contemporary art scene.
Four whole days in November are dedicated to celebrating contemporary art and bringing the cultural sector together in a unique way, with the lure of more than 100 exhibitions and events in the 2017 programme a fine way to explore the city’s historical and up-and-coming districts.
Organised by Amsterdam Art, the only contemporary art weekend of its kind in the city hosts over 46,000 visitors a year and, if the plans for 2018 are anything to go by, that figure will only rise year-on-year.
What struck me about the city, apart from the apparent explosion in cycle use in recent years, was that there was no snobbery some might associate with the art world, with the strong focus on emerging artists, new technologies and media meaning there is literally something for everyone.
Our tour started with a visit to the headquarters of Manifesta, the European Biennial of Contemporary Art, which showcased a unique exhibition in collaboration with Ellen de Bruijne Projects in a stunning 17th century canal house.
But the beauty of Amsterdam lies in its diversity, and visitors can while away the hours at galleries like Galerie Fons Welters, the Annet Gelink Gallery, Grimm, and Huis Marseille. All with their own identity, all with something different to offer, and all contributing to the cultural revolution currently unfolding in Amsterdam.
For example, one minute I was perusing Chinese artist Evelyn Taocheng Wang’s second solo show at Galerie Fons Welters, the Four Season of Women Tragedy, and the next I was engrossed in G.O.A.T, a video by the controversial and seemingly darkly comic Dutch artist Erik van Lieshout in the Annet Gelink Gallery.
You can be trying to figure out artist Daniel Richter’s ‘Music for Orgies’ oil painting – described as “pop art mixed with existential sexual violence” by the artist himself – in the Grimm gallery one morning, before hours later you find yourself immersed in the world of Sudanese artist, painter and former politician Ibrahim El Salahi at the Prince Claus Fund Gallery.
You can see how the creativity-inducing atmosphere of Amsterdam has lured many an artist away from his or her homeland, and there will always be strong reminders of home to be found.
Huis Marseille, another gorgeous 17th century canal house, regularly organises exhibitions and, during my visit, it played host to a special exhibition by British fashion photographer Jamie Hawkesworth – focusing on his amazing work in capturing the steady stream of transient passengers through, of all places, Preston Bus Station.
And a tour around the newly-extended Stedelijk Museum saw me stumble across some stunning pieces by Scottish artist Lucy McKenzie as part of its new show ‘Jump into the Future – Art from the 90s and 2000s – The Borgmann Donation’.
McKenzie might not be a household name, and her huge mural adorning one of the Stedelijk’s walls entitled “If it Moves, Kiss it” might be on the risqué side for some, but there is something deeply satisfying about seeing a Glasgow girl going places.
With that in mind, a key part of the weekend is devoted to shining the spotlight on talent development and broadening people’s horizons.
Visitors are able to discover a new generation of international artists at the RijksakademieOPEN, which sees those talented and fortunate enough to have gained a place at the prestigious institution throw open their studio doors to visitors.
Reactions to the varied artwork and installations on display are inevitably mixed, but the creativity on show will certainly get you talking and thinking. And I think that’s the point.
Even the hotels are embracing the art scene. Around every corner of the chic Andaz Amsterdam Prinsengracht, from the lifts to the bathrooms, guests can discover unique works of art including magical murals and sculptural furniture.
Each space was designed by Dutch architect and designer Marcel Wanders, lovingly dubbed the Dutch ‘Lady Gaga’ by our host, but the hotel’s piece de resistance is its quirky video art everywhere to be found. Visitors can even flick through the artwork in the privacy of their own room – a sort of Netflix for the contemporary art connoisseur.
When it comes to culture and art, Amsterdam clearly isn’t a battleground between old and new – it plays host to both in ample measure.
Amsterdam Art: Things to look out for in 2018
October 7 2017 – May 27 2018, Hermitage Amsterdam
Dutch Masters from the Hermitage. Treasures of the Tsars
The Hermitage Amsterdam will showcase one of the greatest treasures of the State Hermitage: the world’s leading collection of Dutch Golden Age painting outside the Netherlands. No fewer than 63 works by 50 different artists are being brought to Amsterdam for a unique exhibition that will celebrate the paintings first (brief) ‘home-coming’ in 350 years.
October 13 2017 – February 18 2018, Amsterdam Museum and Rembrandthuis
Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck
The Amsterdam Museum and the Rembrandt House Museum will be presenting the first ever exhibition devoted to the painters Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck.
Many paintings are coming together from all over the world, from museums and private collections, for this double exhibition in Amsterdam. Some of them will be back in the Dutch capital for the first time since the seventeenth century. The exhibition explores the mastery of Ferdinand Bol and Govert Flinck in the seventeenth century at two locations that complement one another: training at the ‘first academy of art’ versus independence in the art market.
November 11 2017 – March 18 2018, Frans Hals Museum
The Art of Laughter
Rarely have more humorous paintings been produced than in the Dutch Golden Age. Naughty children, stupid peasants, foolish dandies and befuddled drunks, quack doctors, pimps, procuresses, lazy maids and lusty ladies – they figure in large numbers in Golden Age masterpieces. The Art of Laughter: Humour in the Golden Age presents the first ever overview of humour in seventeenth-century painting.
From December 16 2017, Stedelijk Museum
Stedelijk Base, The new collection presentation
750 Works trace developments in art and design from the late 19th century to the present day. tedelijk Base, the new collection presentation of the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, opens on Saturday 16 December. It is one of the largest installation of the Stedelijk collections in its history, and will remain on view for at least five years.
January 19 2018 – March 28 2018, Foam
Back to the Future
Spanning a dialogue between contemporary positions and those of the nineteenth century, the exhibition Back to the Future displays what the photographic medium was, what it is, and what it will be in the near future.
March 8 2018 – June 3 2018, Rijksmuseum
For centuries, powerful princes, eccentric aristocrats and fabulously wealthy citizens, looking their most beautiful in full regalia, had themselves painted by the world’s best artists. Preferably life-size, standing and ‘from head to toe’. In spring 2018, the Rijksmuseum will present High Society: thirty-five life-size portraits by the great masters in art history: from Cranach to Velázquez and from Rembrandt to Monet. Paintings are on loan from, among others, the Louvre (Paris), Musée d’Orsay (Paris), Prado (Madrid), Tate (London) and Uffizi (Florence).
March 23 2018 – June 24 2018, Van Gogh Museum
Van Gogh and Japan
The exhibition will demonstrate, step by step, how Van Gogh bent the Japanese example to his will. In this way he defined himself as a modern artist and positioned himself opposite such artists as Emile Bernard and Paul Gauguin. The size, nature and importance of Van Gogh’s own collection of Japanese prints will be explored in detail, as will the role played by his prints in the renewal of his own idiom.
April 2018 – September 2018, Stedelijk Museum
Sottsass – First ever Sottsass retrospective in the Netherlands
The Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam has acquired an important item by Italian designer Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007), one of the most influential designers of the second half of the twentieth century. The work is Cabinet no. 70 (2006), a monumental piece of furniture that is a combined cabinet, table and dresser. Famous for his Postmodern Memphis furniture of the 1980s, Sottsass continued to raise eyebrows with his innovative concepts and unexpected combinations of materials right into old age.
March 22 2018 – May 13 2018, Keukenhof
In 2018, Keukenhof will be dedicated to ‘Romance in Flowers’. Romance and flowers are inextricably related. The most beautiful spring park in the world will develop a romantic spring atmosphere.
The historic park was designed mid-way through the Romantic period (1857) as an ornamental garden for the Keukenhof castle. Since 1950, millions of tulips have flowered in the sumptuous gardens surrounding the pond with its fabulous lines of sight between the centuries-old beech trees. The flower shows will all revolve around the romantic theme. The rose show will be bigger than ever: the red rose, the symbol of true love. In 2018, Keukenhof will have a wonderful, romantic flower mosaic featuring some 50,000 bulbs. The Keukenhof season will conclude with Romance at Keukenhof, the classical music festival among the tulips.
March 24 2018 – May 27 2018, EYE Filmmuseum
In 2015, EYE launched a new prize for work at the intersection of visual art and film. The prize is awarded to an artist whose work in recent years has made a valuable contribution to this particular area. The prize money of £25,000 has been made available by the Paddy and Joan Leigh Fermor Arts Fund in English.
Each year an international jury and advisory board, made up of key figures from the art and film worlds, selects a winner. The first exhibition is scheduled for the spring of 2018 and will feature work by the first three winners. The winner of the fourth EYE Art & Film Prize will be announced at the opening.
June 15 2018 – June 17 2018, Open Garden Days
Hidden behind the stately façades of the houses along Amsterdam’s canals lie some of the city’s best-kept secrets: private gardens. For one weekend in June you can look behind these impressive canal-side homes and step into a completely different world, where a quiet green oasis welcomes visitors.
October 5 2018 – March 28 2019, Museum Het Schip
Gaudi and the Amsterdamse School Architects
The exhibition will show the architecture and art of the Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí within the wavy facades of Museum Het Schip.
November 2018 (dates to be confirmed), Amsterdam Art Weekend 2018
The city of Amsterdam will dedicate four whole days in celebration of contemporary art for the seventh time during the Amsterdam Art Weekend. The only contemporary arts festival of its kind in the city brings together the cultural sector in a unique way.
December 2018 – January 2019, Amsterdam Light Festival
2018/2019 marks the fifth edition of the Amsterdam Light Festival. As with previous editions, a whole host of Dutch and international artists will contribute to the festival, creating site-specific light sculptures around the Canal Ring, the River Amstel and other special locations.