Play and display: AMO unveils new platform for the Stedelijk Museum’s collection

Play and display: AMO unveils new platform for the Stedelijk Museum’s collection

Five years after its reopening, Amsterdam’s Stedelijk Museum today reveals Stedelijk BASE, a much-anticipated new presentation of the museum’s permanent collection, which marks the finale of the museum’s almost decade-long revitalisation. 

Located in the basement of the ‘bathtub’ (the nickname of the new wing designed by fellow Dutch architect Mels Crouwel), its new display has been designed by AMO architects Rem Koolhaas and Federico Martelli, who envisaged an innovative exhibition system specifically for the space. Most notably, the 1340 sq m lower level gallery is made of 180 tons of steel, supporting a number of specially developed, ultra-thin freestanding walls on which some 700 highlights from the collection can be mounted. 

For almost two years Koolhaas and Martelli worked closely with the museum’s team of curators, researchers and technical staff, delving into the archives in search of a propitious representation. The result is a hybrid arrangement that is both chronological and thematic. The new display is laid out in an open-ended route, which allows visitors to see the modern and contemporary art and design from 1880 until 1980 in unexpected combinations. The perimeter walls in the rectangular room present a history of the developments in art and design while the freestanding walls display thematic zones. ‘The design responds to new ways of absorbing information,’ says Martelli, ‘Viewers have become capable of focusing on many things at the same time and a multiplicity of information stimulates our curiosity.’  

The Stedelijk Museum collection contains about 90,000 objects and it is the museum's ambition to present them all online. Photography: Gert Jan van Rooij

The peculiarities of the design space required high standards of building in regard to stability, vibration and security. AMO worked closely with Tata Steel Nederland and ARUP engineers in order to achieve the solid yet elegant solution. At one end of the room a pavilion houses Gerrit Rietveld’s Harrenstein Bedroom (1971) and its accompanying balcony doubles as a dedicated showcase of the master’s furniture works and a lookout from which visitors can admire the architecture of the space.  

Amsterdammers share a profound attachment to the Stedelijk collection, and the challenge of the new presentation was to reward seasoned museumgoers with a new experience while providing one-timers from around the globe an entry to its world of creation. ‘At Stedelijk BASE we want to show the icons of the collection. Curators from different disciplines – contemporary art, graphic design, industrial design and photography – worked together to find out what people are interested in,’ Margriet Schavemaker, head of collections and research, explains. ‘We started with a very different vision on how to present artworks: not as a list of autonomous objects presented without a context, but as part of a network of connections and associations. It is such a major experiment in thinking how to curate in the 21st century.‘

In the new presentation, Dutch masters like Piet Mondrian, Ed van der Elsken, Constant and Jacqueline de Jong are the spotlights, of course; international names like Kazimir Malevich and Marlene Dumas are in the mix, too. Engaging and nonconformist, AMO’s design epitomises the Stedelijk’s traditionally bold, experimental spirit, and will become a permanent constituent of the institution. 

OMA/AMO has already been experimenting in the world of displaying art; recent examples are Elements of Architecture at the Venice Biennale in 2014 and the exhibition display of Serial and Portable Classic for the Fondazione Prada in Milan and Venice in 2015. However, Koolhaas is particularly sentimental about this project – he frequented the museum in his formative years and says that the Stedelijk was his university and shaped his sense of aesthetics. ‘I live around the corner, and our office is around the corner, too, so we had a physical presence throughout the project that made it such an unique and organic collaboration', he says. 'In my own experience, there are very few comparable situations where the aim is so clearly articulated, so collectively supported, and so technically elaborated.’

RELATED TOPICS: DUTCH ARCHITECTURE, OMA