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  • Writer's pictureMoorea Hall-Aquitania, MA

A Brief History of the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam

What is the Stedelijk Museum?

The Stedelijk Museum is Amsterdam’s leading museum of modern and contemporary art with works by Vincent van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky and Andy Warhol.

Editør, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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Stedelijk Museum History

The Stedelijk Museum, referred to by the Dutch simply as the Stedelijk, is Amsterdam’s premier collection of modern and contemporary art and design. Situated here on the Museumplein and the closest neighbour of the Van Gogh Museum, the building combines a late-19th-century brick edifice with a slick white 21st-century construction known as ‘The Bathtub’. Inside this architectural hybrid you’ll find modern artworks by artists such as Vincent van Gogh, Wassily Kandinsky, Marc Chagall, Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning and Andy Warhol, as well as exhibitions of contemporary artists and design history.

The museum was originally founded in 1874 by a group of private citizens who donated pieces from their own collections as well as funds to establish a museum of modern art. The collection was first housed at the Rijkmuseum before moving to the current building in 1895. This first building, inspired by 16th-century Dutch Renaissance architecture, was designed by Adriaan Willem Weissman and housed the entirety of the expanding collection until it was forced to close for renovations in 2004 due to poor climate control and city fire regulations. The museum was temporarily relocated to Post CS, an old Postal Service building near the central train station, while the building underwent an eight-year reconstruction. During this period, the new ‘Bathtub’ wing designed by Benthem Crouwel Architects was added, which gave the museum more than 3,000 square metres of new exhibition space and also houses the library, auditorium, museum shop and restaurant.

The Stedelijk’s collection was originally much more diverse, including objects from the Amsterdam Militia as well as medical artefacts and other pieces related to the city’s history, many of which are now housed in the Amsterdam Museum. Beginning in 1920, the collection was curated to focus on modern and contemporary art including pioneering design and photography. The Stedelijk rose to international prominence in the 1940s with the appointment of Willem Sandberg as director. Sandberg worked to expand the collection with a prints and drawings department and many acquisitions in new fields – the Stedelijk was one of the first European modern art museums to collect photography. Sandberg also started an ambitious exhibition programme, which included working directly with artists and encouraging them to produce experimental artworks, and he famously had all the interior walls painted white, creating the ‘white cube’ gallery spaces that remain so prevalent in museums today.

The permanent collection focuses on many different art movements including De Stijl, Bauhaus, Pop Art, CoBrA, Post- and Neo-Impressionist art. You’ll be able to experience a broad-based approach to the painting, sculpture, installations, moving images, prints and drawings, photography, and design of the 20th and 21st centuries. The building itself has also become an attraction, with its glass frontage overlooking the Museumplein. The restaurant is a popular spot in its own right, as is the museum shop, which offers a wide range of curated art books and contemporary design items. The museum holds regular events for the public and is a popular meeting place for lovers of modern and contemporary art.

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