Goodbye to an old friend…..at least for the time being

I first visited the Boijmans van Beuningen museum in Rotterdam early in 1989. The occasion was a cultural visit to the Netherlands with a group of college friends from Wimbledon School of Art where I was studying at the time. We couldn’t afford to join the official college trip to Madrid and Barcelona, so we put together a cut price excursion of our own, visiting the nearer to home delights that the Dutch museums had to offer.

Over the years I have returned to the Boijmans on countless occasions to visit the permanent collection and a variety of temporary shows. But today’s visit on 2nd May 2019 is going to be the last for quite some time. The museum is about to undergo a major renovation and refit that is scheduled to take seven years. Such projects though do have a tendency to run out; just how long was the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam closed for for its rebuild?

It is a slightly odd feeling that a museum that I know so well is simply going to be unaccessible for so long. But if I’m honest, maybe it really is time to bring the museum up to date. Museums have moved on a lot in the last twenty years. How they look and what they offer as an experience has changed and the Boijmans has perhaps got a little left behind.

The museum has a large and diverse permanent collection. It perhaps deserves an updated space to be displayed in. One of my own personal favourites certainly could do with a new home. I remember the two interior curved and slightly rusting steel arcs by Richard Serra from my early visits to Rotterdam. They slice through the space of a street level gallery. Nowadays these industrial scale interventions feel more like part of the interior design of the café with which they have to share the location.

So as the museum draws towards its temporary closure it ends with an exhibition about the Bauhaus. A celebration of the 100 years since the influential German school was set up and the ways it connected with the Dutch art and design world of the time. Presumably the museum won’t be reopening with a show celebrating 107 years of the Bauhaus or worse still 110 years. But that does some how put into perspective, just how long the museum is closing for.

Ellsworth Kelly, at last, and a new Dutch modern art museum

Ellsworth Kelly has always been an important artist to me, ever since I first encountered his work as a student in London back in the late 1980s. His use of line and form, coupled with intense colour, drew me towards an interest in abstraction. His reduced artworks had a beauty that engaged my attention and helped me resolve how I could deal with abstract elements in my own work. Kelly’s work continues to be a touchstone in my own studio practice.


Despite this interest in his work I have never seen a solo show of his paintings or sculptures. I have regularly come across pieces in London, Paris, Amsterdam and Otterlo near where I live, but normally only one or two at a time. So it was with considerable anticipation that I arrived at the new Voorlinden Museum, on the outskirts of The Hague to see that elusive solo exhibition, ironically enough, just a few months after the artist’s death.
Kelly himself acknowledged the connection of his work with nature and the world around us. The Voorlinden museum in this regard presents a fantastic context. The architecture itself is reduced and and lean, no decoration here, less still in Kelly’s work. Always close by is the natural world, seen through the expansive glass walls of the museum.
The paintings are given the chance to breath their intense colour, the geometry of the forms cutting across the immaculate walls.
There is an attention to detail in Kelly’s work that is at once simple and fascinatingly complex. An edge that to all intents and purposes looks straight, but just by the smallest of margins isn’t, or one of his curves resting, and seemingly waiting to pivot, on the most fragile of points resting on the ground. But above all in the difusely top-lit gallery spaces of the museum it is the colour that captures the attention. Immaculately laid down surfaces with a rich intensity.

There are many other interesting pieces on show elsewhere in the museum, but in the context of he Kelly show, Open Ended by Richard Serra and Skyspace by James Turrell are particularly enjoyable combinations. Serra’s huge curving arcs envelop you as you walk through them, the rusting steel surface of his sculptures share nothing of the immaculate surface quality of Kelly’s work. However, for both artists the geometry of the edge is crucial. In that regard the edges of Turrell’s Skyspace installation work could hardly appear sharper. From the reclining benches around the sides of the room you look up through the sharp square opening in the roof to the limitless space of the sky above. The awareness you have of the surface of the canvas in Kelly’s work is replaced by an abiguous sense of surface that you know, in reality, is completely absent.. The slowly passing clouds so carefully framed up by the work taking on a feeling of the most full-colour projection possible.

The Voorlinden museum