Comes now a great opportunity to report on the reopening of Amsterdam’s museums after almost a 10 year renovation. The project has cost almost half a billion dollars and has been subject to frustrating delays during which every Dutch citizen has expressed an opinion or lodged a complaint. The efforts have produced a renewal of Dutch pride and relative prosperity in economically frail Europe and a bid for visitors and prestige that instills competition among institutions worldwide.

Big time museum directors everywhere try to rival the success of the Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall. Citywide lively venues and block buster celebrations are the raison d’être and the Dutch have justifiable pride in the works that they display. From a collection of eight thousand items taken from a million objects, they have designed an atrium which is the literal nerve center of the the reconstituted Rijksmuseum’s exhibits. This is the Gallery of Honor which is laid out like a cathedral nave with chapels which enshrine the gods of the Golden Age of painting.

Central to this thrilling stupendous display is Rembrandt’s Night Watch of 1642 which can easily be described as being one of the world’s two best paintings. (The other is the 1656 Las Meninas by Velasquez in the Prado.) Its greatness easily involves its viewers and immortalizes Dutch militia men in Protestant Holland that rival the great Catholic altarpieces that celebrate Christ in Italy and Spain. The Night Watch is exhibited in L.E.D. enhanced natural light pouring down through a skylight from the North Sea heavens. A militia company of vivid individuals show themselves in velvety deep space, each evincing some particular delight. We celebrate figure flourishing a flag, another dotes on an extremely long spear, while a drummer beams knowing that we like his drumming. Then there are two officers engaged in conversation who literally seem to step into the room with us. Peter Scheldahl of the New Yorker states very simply that the picture is inexhaustibly alive. This huge canvas convinces all who view it that Rembrandt deserves to be deified on the strength of this single painting.

There are also four paintings by Vermeer as well as Frans Hals portraits and works by Jan Steen and Jacob van Ruisdael but Rembrandt rules. Here in the Gallery of Honor you will find his Jewish Bride and the Syndics of the Clothmakers Guild both of which show Rembrandt’s ability to portray emotions too deep for tears and a stunning understanding of the people portrayed. His techniques create astonishing emotion and comprehension.

Two other stellar museums in the immense public space known as the Museumplein in the old South quarter of Amsterdam also have made their debut. The Stedelijk is home to the works of Mondrian and Malevich. The building has been reopened with a new entrance pavilion that critics have noted and ridiculed as a giant bathtub and yes, it does look like a Jacuzzi. However the interior of the museum is spacious and welcoming. Finely proportioned evenly lit rooms invite contemplation. Big canvases by Barnett Newman look absolutely brilliant here in the Stedelijk, even much better than in the New York MOMA. There is almost a sacred aura in the settings for contemporary art in their new surrounding.

The Warhols and Rauschenbergs seem far less daring in them. The Van Gogh Museum holds up magnificently; their sole problem is how to accommodate the floods of visitors that come only to see the work of the saint of modern painting. The works are now in graceful modernist quarters which are subterranean and not celebrated by a magnificent entrance. They seem to instruct the viewer that the works are the dynamite, the real reason for coming to Amsterdam. Thus the entrance to the underground thrill of the famous Van Gogh works echoes the Louvre glass pyramid in the evolving culture of museums. It is almost a finishing touch to the Museumplein and it establishes the area as the leading model to be copied or contested for the conjunction of art and its public in the twenty-first century.

And so just to introduce you to the wonders of the celebrated remodeled museums of Amsterdam, here is this flash mob offering. Try it; you’ll like it!


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