Museum Arnhem reopens after extensive renovation, and now puts themes such as gender and migration on the agenda

That’s another way to get in. Where previously you had to first buy a ticket in a cramped reception when visiting Museum Arnhem, and then penetrate a narrow corridor to the exhibitions, you are now almost immediately in the open, round space in the heart of the old building (a national monument). Here you have previously shown art, now you will find a cafe and museum shop here. From here you can choose: either you enter the sculpture garden (free entrance), or you walk towards the new building, where four new exhibition rooms are waiting for you.

Museum Arnhem is open again. After a major renovation and renovation that lasted more than four years, the doors will open to the public on May 13th. ‘The renovation was an urgent need,’ says Saskia Bak, director of the museum since 2015. ‘The museum was too closed, not inviting enough. It no longer fit this time ‘.

The program has also been updated. Bak: ‘We want to become a museum that reflects on what is going on in society. So far, we have primarily made exhibitions based on art historical themes, movements and periods. From now on, we will show what designers and artists have to say about current topics such as climate change, migration, identity and gender. ‘ According to Bak, these are themes that play a major role in Museum Arnhem’s collection, which consists of modern and contemporary art and design from the Netherlands and abroad.

The most drastic price change: There will be no permanent collection. Instead, the collection will play a larger and smaller role in varying exhibitions. The collection plays a leading role in the three exhibitions that the museum opens with, which deal with climate change, political polarization and the interplay between art and the public, respectively. Afterwards, however, many of these works of art will disappear back into the (already new) depot.

‘The collection is always much bigger than what one can show,’ says Bak. ‘This way we handle it smoothly.’ Audience favorites, like it yellow house by magical realist Carel Willink and paintings by Marlene Dumas, will probably return on a regular basis: ‘That way we show that one can tell different stories about each work of art.’

What is there to experience now that the museum is finally reopening? A tour of four works of art from the collection.

Gbor Tsui (2019) by Serge Attukwei Clottey

Serge Attukwei Clottey: Gbor Tsui.Picture Erik Smits

We enter the exhibition from the round room belonging to the old building Best before indoors, on climate change and the relationship between humans and their natural environment. In the first room, one immediately runs into the monumental Gbor Tsui (2019) by Ghanaian artist Serge Attukwei Clottey (1985). Clottey made the installation, a golden-yellow curtain that hangs in the middle of the room, by stringing pieces of recycled plastic together.

“This work of art, which looks festive at first glance, touches on complex contemporary issues such as water scarcity and environmental pollution,” says Bak. The plastic pieces come from jerry cans that have long been used to transport cooking oil from the UK to Ghana. In Clottey’s childhood, they were renamed water cisterns. During the frequent periods of drought, they were used to transport water. The number of jerry cans now exceeds the amount of water available. Many specimens end up among the litter on the street and there they fall apart into small pieces.

A few rooms further on we leave the old building and end up in the new wing. A large glass wall offers spectacular views of the Lower Rhine. The old wing, which was demolished down to the new building, had an exhibition hall with a similar view: the Rijnzaal. ‘Because the art there had to compete with the beautiful view, we chose to close the halls in the new building,’ says Bak. ‘This open space offers a resting place between the exhibitions.’ Only one work of art is exhibited here: a mountain of stones on which a golden ring rests, an installation by jewelery designer Katharina Dettar.

Huk Pacha (2020) by Claudia Martinez Garay

Claudia Martinez Garay: from the series Pacha.  Picture Erik Smits

Claudia Martinez Garay: from the series Pacha.Picture Erik Smits

In the last room of Best before, in the new wing there are five large, colorful tapestries reminiscent of tarot cards. There are striking symbols on it: corn cobs, potatoes, cougars and snakes. The artist Claudia Martinez Garay was inspired for these rugs by the stories, traditions and symbols of the Andes in her native Peru. She refers to her ancestors’ worldview from the Andes, for whom nature and man are not separated, but closely connected. “Such non-Western perspectives are valuable for a topic like climate change,” Bak says.

Jan Telegraaf (1936) by Berthe Edersheim

Berthe Edersheim: Jan Telegraaf.  Picture Erik Smits

Berthe Edersheim: Jan Telegraaf.Picture Erik Smits

While Best before also opens the exhibition From left to right† It mainly shows art from the interwar period, the period between World War I and World War II, centered around the theme of political polarization. “The theme and this exhibition stems from one of the spearheads of the Museum Arnhem collection: Dutch realism,” says Bak. ‘We looked at that collection and wanted to develop a new view of realism for this exhibition, where the influence of politics became visible. And there is a clear connection with the present, where polarization is of course also an important theme. ‘

This new look led to rediscovery, such as the paintings of Berthe Edersheim. Together with her husband Harmen Meurs, she was part of a group of socially engaged artists who opposed racism and National Socialism. Among other things, she painted portraits of Surinamese in the Netherlands, including a portrait of Jan Telegraaf, the leader of the Union of Surinamese Workers in the Netherlands. She did this in a neo-realistic style that betrays the influence of her teacher Charley Toorop.

Edersheim exhibited regularly during the interwar period, Bak says, but she has since been forgotten. It has to do with the art climate during and around World War II, when socialist artists did not gain a foothold. Not only with From left to right but Museum Arnhem also fills this gap with procurement: Two paintings by Edersheim were purchased in 2019, the portrait by the Telegraaf and a self-portrait.

mascot (2011) by Ad Gerritsen

Ad Gerritsen: Mascot.  Picture Erik Smits

Ad Gerritsen: Mascot.Picture Erik Smits

In addition to painters from Interbellum, From left to right also paintings by contemporary artists working in the tradition of realism. You can discover a fine parallel between the portrait of Jan Telegraaf and the portraits of Black Lives Matter activists by the contemporary artist Iris Kensmil.

What is more ambiguous is the connection with the reality of the painting mascot by the Arnhem painter Ad Gerritsen, which hangs next to the portraits of Kensmil. ‘Gerritsen paints on the basis of news images, and his work has a political charge, but one can often not find out the specific reason,’ says Bak. ‘A painting like mascot transcends reality ‘.

On the canvas, a group of men is seen around a woman with a partially shaved head, dressed in a blue dress reminiscent of a hospital apron. One of the men takes the woman by the chin, as if to show his face to the viewer. ‘You do not quite understand what is happening here,’ Bak says. “Is this a sadistic game, a medical demonstration for students, or a beating?” It is not entirely clear, and yet, or therefore, the painting has a powerful charge.

“Just as we have previously collected and presented a relatively large amount of art from women, we now let many different voices be heard from artists from all kinds of cultural backgrounds,” Bak concludes. ‘As a museum, you can play an important role in expanding visitors’ horizons.’ To ensure that visitors are open to this, you must meet them first. The museum hopes to achieve this with the open, inviting new building.

New wing

The biggest eye-catcher in the renovation is the new wing, designed by Benthem Crouwel Architects, known for the ‘bathtub’ in the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam. The facade is clad with 82,000 handmade tiles and protrudes on two sides beyond the edge of a moraine. A staircase in the wing, which provides 550 square meters of extra exhibition space, leads to a terrace where the view of the Lower Rhine can be enjoyed for free. The wing also houses the depot, which was previously located in seven places.

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