The Rijksmuseum’s Philips Wing gets a ’Modern Times’ reboot

The Rijksmuseum’s Philips Wing gets a ’Modern Times’ reboot

Housed in the Rijksmuseum’s newly refurbished Philips Wing, a serene portrait of the former Queen of the Netherlands hangs above one of cannabis poet Lee Bridges. Part of the gallery’s inaugurating show, ’Modern Times: Photography in the 20th Century’, the works hint at the curatorial direction of the exhibition - typically Dutch in its democratic and broad selection.

Indeed, the exhibition opens with a floor-to-ceiling graphic charting every artist on show in chronological order, from Eadweard Muybridge (famous for his motion studies) to his Dutch contemporary, Viviane Sassen. A lone portrait of photography’s grand dame, Susan Sontag, hangs quite fittingly beside the roster.

Tracing the medium’s key developments during the last century, the show is divided into seven core themes spanning street photography, fashion, war journalism and more. Key names and amateurs are well represented alike in the 400 pieces on show, plucked from the 130,000 photographs in the museum’s growing collection.

The opening ’Daily Life’ room offers a broad overview of photography, featuring refreshingly personal and candid imagery for the sleek gallery setting. ’Man-Made’ documents the most practical and commercial application of photography - an infallible record of our industrial prowess - while ’Aesthetics & Anti-Aesthetics’ examines the infiltration of artistic work into fashion and advertising.

In the ’Experiments and Studies’ volume, Viviane Sassen’s colourful study of a South American village is juxtaposed with Erwin Blumenfeld’s classic black-and-white nude studies, a contrast befitting of the new gallery. ’In the same spot where we used to have The Jewish Bride by Rembrandt, we have an Edward Weston - and it works,’ explains the Rijksmuseum’s photography curator Mattie Boom.

Rare images, meanwhile, include Lartigue’s early photographs of homemade aeroplanes and Joel Meyerowitz’s ’Moon Launch’. And there are unlikely surprises hidden amongst the Brassaï’s and the Walker Evans’: take the intriguingly picturesque images of North Korean farmlands (unearthed at an antique book fair), or Jan Banning’s confronting series of Indonesian women forced into prostitution during World War II. The works are anchored by vitrines that include magazines and photobooks.

The wing marks another architectural milestone for the museum, which reopened last year after a colossal 10-year renovation by the same architects, Cruz y Ortiz. Downstairs, the foyer gallery plays host to a separate show: Hans van der Meer’s ’Document Nederland 2014: The Netherlands - Belgium’. For this series van der Meer created a visual essay of the peculiar architectural differences in the border area between the two neighbouring countries.

Meanwhile, the museum’s new Rijks restaurant - designed by Paul Linse and headed up by executive chef Joris Bijdendijk - is serving up Dutch fare and wines, with an exotic twist. There’s a surprise for design lovers too: Studio Drift’s kinetic ’Shylight’ installation, which can be found suspended from the ceiling of the wing’s 18th-century stairwell. This hypnotic light installation comprises five silk flowers, which blossom and furl as visitors come near.

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