It’s nearly a year since I’ve been into a museum. My escape days to recharge my cultural batteries. The opening up of a post-lockdown world is finally allowing it again. It’s not quite as it was before, you have to book you entrance time slot and the number of visitors is restricted. It is also true to say that the exhibition programming of the museums has, I’m sure, been mangled by the repeated stop start of the last 18 months. But despite all this it has been fantastic to return to the Kunstmuseum in The Hague today, possible my favourite regular destination of all the big Dutch museums.
Apart from the regular collection, and despite the disruptive effects of the pandemic, the museum had a couple of exhibitions that had drawn me here, ahead of perhaps an Amsterdam of Rotterdam visit. First and foremost a solo exhibition by the Dutch abstract painter Bob Bonies. I remember discovering his work as a student in London back in the 1980s. The hugely reduced visual arrangements that the artist uses fascinated me. The way he worked with form that was physically absent as much as what was present influenced my own student work. Much of the work is of a reasonably large scale, but relies on the most subtle of tensions between the complete and incomplete form, the flat and the spatial, the physical and the illusionistic.
Bonies work is clean, sharp and draws you in. Immaculately made these geometric statements feel totally at home in this particular museum with its equally sharp and geometric design, created by Dutch architect Hendrik Petrus Berlage (1856-1934).
Maybe the difficulties of exhibition planning in the Covid effected world has lead the museum to present an exhibition about its own building, or maybe it was planned all along. But it is certainly interesting to see how the building came about, Berlage’s influences, planning and maquettes. It is a piece of architecture that is always a pleasure to wander through, it’s heavy doors, repeating structures and wall paintings. But for me today, and maybe partly because I had just been gazing at Bonies work, it was a set of photographs by Gerrit Scheurs of the building that particularly caught my eye.
The photographs, like paintings by Bonies, play with the geometry. In this case, within the rectangle. Yes, if you look carefully you can pick out easily enough which part of the museum is actually pictured. But these images too have more than their fair share of spatial and illusionistic games going on……all with the cool diffused light that the museum always has.
One of the other spaces in the Berlage exhibition makes use of large, black and white photographs of exhibitions of the past. Often blown up to wall filling scale. The pictured museum spaces seeming to open up mirrored rooms, but ones that take is into the past, peopled by visitors exploring exhibitions held in the same gallery space maybe fifty or sixty years ago. You share the space for a moment, but find yourself reflecting on the different times and indeed the different world going on outside the walls of the museum.